A (very) brief plot overview
New girl Eleanor has no choice but to sit on the only seat left on the school bus, which is next to Park. Over the next few weeks, the two fall in love, but like most first loves, theirs is doomed.
What’s good about it?
First of all let me say that whilst this is a love story, it isn’t the traditional, roll your eyes cliche kind. Rainbow Rowell ensures that there is more to her characters than just simple, over the top adoration of each other. Eleanor’s home life at times brought tears to my eyes and her experience at the hands of bullies pained me. Park’s own home life, whilst far more idyllic than Eleanor’s, painted a ‘not all is what you see on the surface’ picture which really helped these characters come to life. They are not just flat, 2 dimensional creations who are there solely to obsess over each other, but have personal, deep battles to overcome. Their search for identity and their personal place in the world makes this book far more relatable and realistic and it is what set this book apart from other’s. It almost has a ‘500 Days Of Summer’ vibe – it’s a story about love, not a love story.
Rainbow Rowell writes awkward teenage romance well, particularly when she writes as Eleanor. I recognised myself in Eleanor’s body image doubts, her constant need to not allowed herself to fall too deeply and her quiet love for Park. Their love really does remind me of all consuming first loves, which is a real strength of Rowell’s writing. I found myself almost reminiscing over my own teenage years whilst reading this, which is perhaps why it reminds me so much of the indie films I watched growing up.
The book is told from the perspective of both Park and Eleanor. The chapters are short which keeps the writing pacy and you find yourself saying ‘I’ll just read the next chapter… okay, I’ll read another one too… I might as well read the next as well, actually’. I love the use of split narrative so that the reader can understand both Park and Eleanor’s reactions and versions of events. Sometimes Eleanor comes across as overly harsh, but when you read her version of events her reactions become clear. I also love how Eleanor worries about things such as her weight, yet when you read Park’s perspective you see how beautiful he finds every part of her. As a novel about teenage love, I feel like this is a message that can only be beneficial to an insecure reader like my teenage I was.
The ending (I won’t spoil it, don’t worry!) is bittersweet and beautifully written. I love that Rowell choose to end it as she did because I don’t think the book could have ended in any other way without the magic of it being spoilt.
What’s not so good?
At times, I found some of the dialogue a bit too ‘loved up’. Sometimes it came across a bit sickly and I felt like saying ‘steady on, you’ve only held hands’. As someone who isn’t a huge fan of love story novels, that might say more about my personal opinion than the actual writing, though. I think I am sometimes a little too cynical to fully embrace this genre of books, but I did enjoy this one.
Rate me: 8/10. I’m not usually one for romance novels, but this one was really well written and touching. For anyone who liked Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist or any other indie romance with a bit of grit to it, this one is for you.