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Eleanor and Park, a novel by Rainbow Rowell, is an intriguing love story that kept me reading until I was done. Eleanor, the fat kid with bright red hair falls for Park, the semi-popular Asian kid. And Park realizes that he has a crush on the weird, redheaded girl that reads his comics on the school bus.

Eleanor and Park are not the stereotypical romance characters. Rowell puts depth into her characters, making them as real and different as possible. Eleanor has a dad that doesn’t seem to love her, a stepdad that is mean and violent, and a mother that is afraid to get out of her relationship. To make matters worse, she lives in a small house with the bathtub in the kitchen that she shares with her whole family: her mom, stepdad, and her four siblings. Park, on the other hand, has a nice house with a supporting family, but is teased for his Korean heritage. Both protagonists are realistic and complex.

The plot of the story is also beautifully written. The book switches between Eleanor and Park’s point of views. We therefore get both sides of the story, even when they aren’t together. The book portrays Eleanor and Park’s personal conflicts, as well as how they deal with them. It also shows how they feel about each other, and how they grow. We see them bond over comics and music. We watch as they deal with their parents. We observe as they change and learn to have hope even when it seems like life could disappear in a second.

The conflicts that arise in this book reflect real issues today. Both characters deal with tough problems. Eleanor lives in a household with domestic abuse. Eleanor feels unsafe living in her house--especially when her stepfather turns the plot in a new direction. Park starts to wear makeup because he feels he looks cooler. His father judges him for it and doesn’t accept Park’s choice. Rowell vividly paints the characters’ feelings, thoughts, and problems, while at the same time making them relatable.

When I finally put down Eleanor and Park, I sat for a while in awe of the combination of well developed characters, relatability, and creative plot. I was amazed by the heartbreaking ending. The book, I realized, was a story that connected with me and probably so many other readers. I would definitely encourage you to read this book if you are looking for a story that is raw, well thought out, and different.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. St. Martin's Griffin, 2013. Buy the book here and support Children's Art Foundation-Stone Soup in the process!

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