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The 80s as Historical Fiction (A review of Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell)

I will never forget the day I was driving in the car, listening to the radio when the DJ declared it was a flashback weekend – and then he started playing a song from the 80s.  Suddenly, the music I grew up listening to was considered the “oldies”.  It’s possible that I have even heard myself say, “Music today just isn’t any good”.  Maybe.  (You can also go retro with your programming.  Find out more here.)

The music of the 80s is what brings Eleanor and Park together.  That and some comic books.  In fact, Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell is a love letter to the 80s, music, comic books and all things geekery.  It is brilliant, touching, and not what I was expecting. 

Two misfits. One extraordinary love. – from the inside cover

E&P first came on to my radar when I asked earlier in the year if anyone knew of any upcoming light, contemporary romances.  I was working on a book order and noticed that everything was dark, dark, dark, dark.  And not all of my teens like dark.  So several people responded with Eleanor and Park.  But, there are a couple of things you should know.

1) Eleanor and Park may be a love story, and a beautiful one, but it is not contemporary.  It is set in the 1980s, which might make it technically qualify as historical fiction.  But it definitely has a relatability that transcends time.  Teens might not know what it means to have to worry about the batteries running down on their walkmen’s or what it means to make a mix tape, but they have still shared headphones and they can create playlists to share with the freak sitting next to them on the bus.

2)  Eleanor and Park may be a love story, and it is a brilliant one, but it is definitely not light.  Eleanor has a very dark home life.  She is living in abject poverty.  Her stepfather is abusive and that abuse seems to be escalating.

But instead of talking about what Eleanor and Park isn’t, let’s talk about what it is.  E&P is one of the most organic love stories I have ever read.  The first time Eleanor steps onto the bus, Park is just trying to keep his head down and avoid being noticed by the school bullies.  He knows that to offer her a seat would be the death of him, but he sees her struggling and does so.  They sit side by side for weeks without saying a word, until Park realizes that she is reading his comic books over his shoulder.  Soon they are sharing comic books.  Then talking. Then kissing.  Rowell captures every aspect of a budding relationship perfectly: the ackwardness, the sparks, the longing just to be near that person.

“Bono met his wife in high school,” Park says.
“So did Jerry Lee Lewis,” Eleanor answers.
“I’m not kidding,” he says.
“You should be,” she says, “we’re sixteen.”
“What about Romeo and Juliet?”
“Shallow, confused, then dead.”
”I love you,” Park says.
“Wherefore art thou,” Eleanor answers.
“I’m not kidding,” he says.
“You should be.”
– from Eleanor and Park

Rowell also does a really amazing job of character and family development.  Park’s family is simply awesome.  They are a multicultural family struggling with poverty and stereotypes.  Park himself is half Korean.  Everything about Park’s family is done so well.  And when the moments matter, they rise to the ocassion.  Loved this aspect of the story.

Eleanor’s family is so much harder to read because her home life sucks and way too many teens are living in these types of homes.  They walk around on egg shells, fearful of the next wrong step and what the consequences will be.  Simply heartbreaking.

“You’re my favorite person of all time.” – from Eleanor and Park

This is simply a really amazing book.  Read it.  What more can I say.  5 out of 5 stars.  I did have one issue with it, and you can read about that here if you would like.  Next up for Rainbow Rowell – Fangirl, coming in September 2013. 

For more books set in the 80s (or professing a love to the 80s), check out:

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
Way to Go by Tom Ryan
The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jessica Rothenberg
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard

They have a nice discussion and booklist over at Stacked.  So tell us, what would you put on your #80smixtape?  And what are your favorite books set in the 1980s?


  1. I was blown away by this book-it moved me so deeply and actually left me hugging it (well my nook with e-ARC on it) because of all the feelings.

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