Rainbow Rowell, “Eleanor & Park”

Published in 2012 by Rainbow Rowell, Eleanor & Park follows the lives of two sixteen-year-olds–Eleanor and Park–living in Omaha, Nebraska in the 1980s. Eleanor is a chubby girl with curly red hair and a very complicated family life. She and her five younger siblings live in a two-bedroom house with her mother and stepfather, Richie. Richie is physically and emotionally abusive alcoholic with no respect for other people’s privacy. At the beginning of the novel, Eleanor has just returned home after sleeping on friend’s couch for a year because Richie had kicked her out. On the first day at her new school, Eleanor meets Park, a half-Korean boy who comes from a loving family. Although his father pushes him to pursue taekwondo, Park finds passion in alternative music and comic books. Throughout the novel, Eleanor is constantly bullied at school—people write obscene remarks in her books or cover her locker with sanitary pads. Despite this bullying, Park remains a close friend to Eleanor and begins to fall in love with her, a confession that makes Eleanor nervous because Richie does not permit Eleanor to date.

At first, Park’s mother does not like Eleanor, primarily because Park once got into a fight defending her against a bully and broke his nose . However, Park’s father knows about Eleanor’s family life and tells Park’s mother. After realizing the domestic abuse that Eleanor suffers from, Park invites Eleanor to stay at their house to avoid going back. When Eleanor’s uncle offers to take her to a summer program in Minnesota for gifted teens, Richie says no. One day, Eleanor returns to her house one day to find her that her personal belongings have been destroyed and learns that the obscene remarks made in her book were made by Richie. Park sneaks away from home and drives Eleanor to her uncle’s house. Once she is safely living her her uncle, Park beings to send, Eleanor letters but receives no response. The novel ends months later when Park receiving one last postcard from Eleanor with three words on it.

            Eleanor & Park has won many accolades. In 2014, it received the Michael L. Printz Award Honor book for excellence in young adult literature by the American Library Association. The Boston Globe and The Horn Magazines gave Rowell the 2013 Boston Globe Horn Book Award for fiction. It also won Indies Choice Young Adult Book of the Year by the American Booksellers Association, Amazon’s Teen Book of the Year and Top Ten Book of the Year, and the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Young Adult Book of the Year.

Despite its accolades, the novel has also attracted controversy. In 2013, the book was challenged in the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota. Citing that the book was filled with “vile profanity” with 227 instances of coarse language and sexuality, parents demanded that the books be removed from school libraries. In order to settle this controversy, the Anoka High developed a review committee that consisted of parents, staff, and a single student. The committee determined that the book was powerful, realistic, and relevant to the high school community and should be allowed to remain in school libraries. In response to this controversy, Rainbow Rowell commented that that “Eleanor and Park themselves almost never swear…I use profanity in the book to show how vulgar and sometimes violent the characters’ worlds are.” As a result of this controversy, the Anoka-Hennepin district revised their policy stating that, “In any case where materials selected may be of questionable fit for some students in the intended audience, educators should consult with a principal regarding parental notification and potential options for alternatives.”

In May 2019, Rainbow Rowell announced that film adaption of the novel is in the works.

About the Author

Rainbow Rowell, born February 24, 1973, is an American author who writes young adult and adult contemporary novels. Before becoming an author, she was a columnist and copywriter at the Omaha World-Herald from 1995 to 2012. She has written four young adult novels, two adult novels, two short fiction stories, and two comic books. Her works include Attachments (2011), Eleanor and Park (2013), Fangirl (2013), Landline (2014), “Midnights” (2014), Carry On (2015),  Kindred Spirits (2016), Runaways (2017), Wayward Son (2019), Pumpkinheads (2019). She currently lives in Omaha, Nebraska with her husbands and two sons.

Further Reading