Rowell, Rainbow. 2013. ELEANOR AND PARK. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin. ISBN 9781250012579 [Suggested Grade Levels 9 - 12]
It’s 1986. Two outsiders sit silently together on the bus: chunky, red-haired, oddly-dressed Eleanor, and half-Korean, black-clad, music aficionado Park. But as the weeks go by, they begin to bond over comics and music. This leads to holding hands (“he slid … his fingers into her open palm. And Eleanor disintegrated.”) and eventually to an all-consuming first love. But, the two come from different worlds. Eleanor lives in poverty with an abusive stepfather; and the pair struggle with disapproval and bullies as well as teen feelings of insecurity and awkwardness ... it’s a lot for a fragile, first love to overcome.
Eleanor and Park is an exquisitely-crafted novel with richly developed characters that truly capture the teen voice. The alternating perspectives bring depth to the story and fully portray both experiences. The constant uncertainty of Eleanor’s stepfather’s behavior adds intensity and tension. Authentic, often foul language truly depicts young adult conversation. Rowell skillfully uses these elements to build a story of teen love with its intensity and imperfections in this honest, unforgettable novel.
English teacher Mr. Stessman encourages students to memorize a poem. “Brains love poetry. It’s sticky stuff.” Challenge students to do the same. Music is an important part of the novel. Allow readers to create playlists they would share with a friend. Discuss which songs are the “greatest songs ever written.” Comics are also important to the pair. Readers can explore different comics, and discuss their thoughts about the format and the stories.
Other books about first love:
Green, John. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. ISBN 9780525478812
Handler, Daniel. WHY WE BROKE UP. ISBN 9780316127257
LaBan, Elizabeth. THE TRAGEDY PAPER. ISBN 9780375870408