Eleanor is the new girl at school, larger than most girls and with masses of vibrant red hair. Park, handsome and smart, has made a niche for himself at school, and stays just out of sight of the bullies. When Eleanor needs a seat on the bus, against his better judgement, he takes a risk and lets her sit beside him. This starts an unlooked-for friendship, which blooms into an even more unexpected romance.
Eleanor and Park is a surprisingly serious novel. Eleanor's home life is dire, almost dangerous. She won't let herself sully Park's idea of her by sharing just how bad her life is. As a result, Eleanor plays a balancing act, trying to keep Park unknown at home, and trying to keep her reality hidden from Park. This creates misunderstandings and a high amount of stress for both teenagers.
Eleanor and Park is also a sweet novel. Rowell has written first love with a tenderness and authenticity that will tug at the hearts--and memories--of most readers. She captures the way that first love just overwhelms, takes over every aspect of living, and seems the only important thing in the world.
Rowell writes well, making the story engaging and emotional, without becoming banal or mawkish, The characters were fleshed out, real, and not stereotypical. The plot, while sometimes being predictable, still held surprises, and the ending was phenomenal.
I was not expecting to be as moved as I was, nor to like this novel as much as I did. While I doubt that I'll read more of Rowell's novels, this just not being my usual genre, I understand now why she has such a devoted fan base.
28 January 2017 I originally rated this book four stars, but months after reading it, it has stayed in my memory and my heart. As a result, I've upped it to five stars.