Review: Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell

I just spent a weekend at an English teachers’ conference, and it made me remember how much I love reading YA fiction (which I haven’t done for a while), and also that Eleanor & Park was on my Kindle, and I hadn’t read it yet.

I feel a little inadequate to the task of describing this book because there is a lot that a summary can’t capture. Eleanor & Park is the story of two tenth graders who meet on the school bus on Eleanor’s first day at North High School in Omaha, NE. Slowly, the two start to realize they have some things in common, and by Christmas, they’ve fallen hard for each other. Eleanor has a difficult home life, but she tells no one, not even Park. Her stepfather is an abusive alcoholic, and her father has almost no involvement in her life. Her mother is trapped. When Park asks Eleanor “Why doesn’t she leave?”, Eleanor can only reply “I don’t think she can… I don’t there’s enough of her left” (196). Eleanor had been kicked out of her mother and stepfather’s home for a year previously, and she knows her position in the house is precarious. Honestly, Eleanor will break your heart.

I knew I was going to connect to this book when I opened it and saw it began in August, 1986. I suppose that means this book is historical fiction, but to be honest, I can’t look at it that way, even if its intended audience includes people who were born more than a decade after 1986. August, 1986 was the year I started high school myself—coincidentally at a school named North High School (actually, Parkway North, to be more precise). I had just moved, and I was really nervous about school. I can recall the bus politics of worrying over where to sit quite well. I actually wonder if this book isn’t more appropriate for someone like me than for a teenager. I gulped it down in one evening, only putting it down to make up the dough for our Thanksgiving rolls. It’s a little hard not to fall in love with both Eleanor and Park.

One of the best things about the book is the music references. Rainbow Rowell made playlists, which you can find on her blog. Eleanor and Park connect over comic books and the music mix tapes Park shares with Eleanor. Remember mix tapes? They were magical. They took a long time to make, and there was hardly anything more you that you could give someone than a mix tape. I used to have quite a talent for making them, too. Spotify is awesome in many ways, one of which is that it takes the mix tape to the next level. It’s actually my favorite thing about Spotify. I feel like I make tons of “mix tapes.” But there is something about the dedication it used to take to sit down in front of the stereo, select the songs, and try to get them to fit without too much blank space on either side of the tape.

Actually, I pretty much loved everything about this book, and I can’t really do better than what YA author John Green had to say about the book: “Eleanor & Park reminded me not just what it’s like to be young and in love with a girl, but also what it’s like to be young and in love with a book.”

Updated to add that Forever Young Adult made an excellent mix tape for the book:

Rating: ★★★★★

Sunfire Romances

When I was in eighth grade, I discovered the Sunfire Romances. If you were a girl in the 1980’s, you probably know what I’m talking about. These are all out of print now, but they can be found online at places like eBay and in used bookstores. All of these novels had the following characteristics in common:

  • The teenaged protagonist’s name was the title of the book.
  • They were historical romances, each one set during a different period in American history.
  • Each protagonist had to choose between two guys flanked on either side of her on the cover (usually with 1980’s haircuts instead of historically accurate ones). Both of them loved her—one was rebellious and dangerous, while the other was safe, dependable, and boring. Guess which one the protagonist almost always chose.

Aside from teaching me exactly how romance was supposed to work—two guys would inevitably fight over me, the question was would I be brave enough to choose the hot bad boy when my parents wanted me to choose the nice, safe one—these novels also taught me a thing or two about the time periods in which they were set and quite possibly are the reason I became interested in historical fiction—a genre which remains my favorite.

The first one I read was Cassie.


The eponymous heroine of Cassie was kidnapped by Indians when she was four, but she was raised as one of their own, and in her heart, she feels like one of the Iriquois tribe who adopted her, despite her flowing blond locks and sparkling blue eyes. She has much more grrl power than you because she can ride and hunt like any warrior, and she totally looks like she’s 15. Check out the cover. One day, she meets Joshua, a fur trapper who figures out somehow that she’s not one of the tribe and takes her back to the town where she was born. As she transitions almost seamlessly into colonial life after being brought up by Indians, which makes complete sense, she has choose between Joshua and family friend Benjamin. Yeah, you see it coming a mile off because she never displays the slightest interest in Benjamin. Sorry if I ruined the book for you. Wikipedia reminds me that this one is set in 1755.

I know I read the rest of these books, but after Cassie, I’m not sure of the order.


Susannah takes place during the Civil War and is mostly a rip-off of [amazon_link id=”1451635621″ target=”_blank” ]Gone With the Wind[/amazon_link]. I didn’t like it at the time because I had read GWTW in 7th grade, but if I hadn’t read GWTW first, I might have liked Susannah better. Susannah lives in Virginia and is engaged to a Confederate soldier. Her family owns a plantation and many “servants”—yes, they are really called that in the book, which is a worse white-wash of slavery than GWTW. Susannah’s unfortunate fiancé winds up being killed in the war, along with her brother, so she never really has to throw him over for the Yankee soldier Caine Harding, but she totally would have.


Victoria was one of my favorites. Set during the Texas Revolution, Victoria taught me that if you wanted ice in 1835, you had to wait for a hailstorm. I had never given much thought to what people did for ice in history, but that is one of the most important lessons I learned from this book. Victoria must choose between wealthy Mexican landowner Luis Arista or Texas Ranger Cade Riley. Like Cassie, Victoria never shows the slightest interest in the safe guy her parents like, so the ending will not surprise as much as the lengths one had to go to procure ice in 1835 Texas.

DanielleDanielle was my favorite. Danielle lived during the War of 1812 (actual date, 1814) New Orleans on a sugar plantation that actually paid its workers. I know, right? Danielle’s daddy liked to buck the system like that. Anyway, Danielle’s boring fiancé Paul is in the navy, and Danielle finds herself yearning for something more exciting, which shows up in the form of Geoffrey, a pirate who happens to be Jean Lafitte’s nephew. It totally looks like Danielle is going to throw Paul over and join up with the pirates when she discovers, to her utter shock and amazement, that pirates are kind of mean. Still, this book did have me scouring my Encyclopaedia Britannica for articles about New Orleans and Jean Lafitte as well as scanning maps looking for Lafitte’s hidey-holes. If I read it it now, I’d probably hate it, but I liked it at the time because Danielle totally didn’t pick the guy I thought she’d pick.

These are the only ones I remember reading, but the series is much longer. Goodreads has a list compiled. I feel totally gypped because I missed out on Nicole. I love Titanic stories and games. And how did I miss Darcy? That was the name of my best friend in 8th grade, for crying out loud. Plus how did I miss Elizabeth? I have been mildly obsessed with the Salem Witch Trials since elementary school when I saw that episode of Scooby Doo called “To Switch a Witch,” which is not about the witch trials, really, but is about Salem witches. You can watch that on YouTube. I totally didn’t get distracted from finishing this blog post to watch it. And in not watching it, I was reminded of William Faulkner’s assertion that the “past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” Also, the gravedigger has an amazing memory. And that episode is not as great as I remember it being, much like the Sunfire romances, but it’s not nearly as historically accurate as those YA novels. See? I tied it back together in the end.