If you're seeking a quick story that will make your heart smile, then Eleanor & Park is an excellent choice. Eleanor and Park, two teenagers who slowly fall in love while sharing a seat on the bus to high school, couldn't be more different. Eleanor is the new girl, with blazing red curls, an odd style of dressing with an emphasis on men's ties and a cool sarcastic tone, all of which serve to mask her terrible home life and deep sense of not being or having enough. Park aims to lay low as much as possible; he's got enough social cred to remain under the radar in terms of bullying, but with his Asian eyes, affinity for comic books and stereotypical karate skills (his dad makes him take lessons), he too knows what it's like to be an outcast.
That's why he lets her sit by him on the bus that first day, when nobody else will. He cringes, wishing she would make herself a little less visible, and worries that his proximity to her will invite unwanted attention from his "cool" friends. As days go by, he notices that she is silently reading his comics over his shoulder, and he finds himself waiting until each morning bus ride to read on, so that she's not left behind. He thinks of ways to talk to her, and notices names of bands doodled on her book cover. "So, you like the Smiths?" He asks one day. "I don't know, I've never heard them," she responds. " (45) The exchange continues until Eleanor confesses, embarrassed, that she doesn't have anything in order to listen to the bands she's heard of. So Park lends her his Walkman, and makes her a mix tape. (A mix tape! Ah, the good ole days.) When Park asks what she thinks of a particular song later that week, she responds, "I just want to break that song into pieces . . . and love them all to death." (59)
Eleanor & Park fully encapsulates what it means to be young and in love: how carefully it happens, what boys versus girls notice about one another, the tyranny of high school upon one's search for identity, family expectations, lust and loss. These two kids fall for each other, hard, and that experience will stay with them regardless of the outcome of their relationship. Eleanor says, "I don't think I even breathe when we're not together . . . Which means, when I see you . . . it's been like sixty hours since I've taken a breath. . . All I do when we're apart is think about you, and all I do when we're together is panic. Because every second feels so important. And because I'm so out of control, I can't help myself. I'm not even mine anymore, I'm yours, and what if you decide that you don't want me? How could you want me like I want you?" (111) She's being dramatic because first loves are dramatic; that's why they feel so powerful, complex and long-lasting. Rowell completely understands that concept, and articulates it in a funny, honest, sweet way with realistic subplots along the way.