Eleanor & Park

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Eleanor & Park Book Poster Image
Intense '80s romance is a fabulous pick for mature teens.
Popular with kidsParents recommend

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 11 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 49 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Teen readers will receive the equivalent of a sociology seminar about adolescent pop culture (particularly alternative music and comic books) of the early-to-mid '80s. The author firmly places the story in 1986 by mentioning the music, celebrities, apparel, and books that mean a lot to the two central characters.

Positive Messages

Eleanor and Park's friendship and romance show that you can't judge someone by your first impression of them. If that had been the case, Eleanor would forever have thought of Park as the "stupid Asian kid" who cursed at her, and he would've considered her the big and off-putting weird girl. The story stresses the importance of standing up for those you love, having a relationship based on honesty and respect, staying true to yourself, and trusting parents who love you to understand. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Park and Eleanor love each other and want to help each other in any way possible. Park, in particular, wants to make Eleanor happy, since she lives in such an unhappy home. Eleanor feels as though there isn't anything she can give back to Park in return, but she does give him the gift of the Beatles and her constant love. Mr. and Mrs. Sheridan are rare examples of happily married, loving parents; they're the "perfect parent" foils for Eleanor's abused mother and checked-out father. When Eleanor's in trouble, Mr. Sheridan understands why Park must help her.

Violence

Park instigates a fight with a classmate who was making fun of Eleanor. Both Park and the bully end up with bloody and bruised faces. Eleanor's stepfather is cruel and violent: He smashes things, even on Christmas, and physically abuses Eleanor's mom, who sports bruises. He acts threateningly toward Eleanor, who hates him and is frightened of him.

Sex

For a long while during their relationship, Eleanor and Park just hold hands and caress each other's faces and arms before they eventually kiss. After a few kisses, their physical relationship leads to three passionate make-out sessions, but they stop just shy of sex. Eleanor mentions that nothing with Park is "dirty," because she knows he loves her.

Language

There's definitely strong language, but it's used realistically. High-schoolers swear on a regular basis (on the bus, in school, etc.), as does Park's father. Strong language and insults include "f--k," "motherf---er," "s--t," "bitch," "d--k," etc. Somebody writes incredibly profane comments on her notebooks. "Mean" kids call Eleanor everything from Raghead to Big Red. Park's mother scolds even her husband for cursing.

Consumerism

Brands are mentioned within the context of the '80s setting, like Converse, Vans, Doc Martens. Eighties popular culture, especially New Wave music (The Cure, The Smiths, U2, Dead Kennedys, XTC, Joy Division), comic books (Watchmen, X-Men, Batman: The Dark Knight), literature (Maya Angelou, Judy Blume), and TV (Tom Selleck, Magnum P.I.) are discussed in nearly every conversation between Eleanor and Park.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Eleanor's stepfather is an alcoholic who's known to hang out at a neighborhood dive bar, and he comes home angry and antagonistic.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Eleanor & Park is a coming-of-age romance about two high-school misfits in the '80s who meet and fall in love on the school bus. There's strong language and mature themes about poverty, domestic abuse, and emotional/financial instability. The central characters explore the challenges of being "different" (in Park's case, because he's half-Korean, in Eleanor's because of her looks and family) but also the joy of falling in love for the first time. Popular culture from the '80s is regularly discussed, and the protagonists share everything from holding hands to nearly having sex.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 10 and 13 year old Written byshanghaiang April 11, 2013

A Good Read for Older Teens and Adults

This is a very good read, but be aware there is a lot of heavy stuff within the pages. I gave it to my (almost) 14-year-old, based on the Common Sense Media ag... Continue reading
Adult Written byTonyBMG June 6, 2014

This book is full of the F word

This book was boring, boring, boring, then slightly better, boring, boring, something happened, then stopped. No ending. Could have been much better. Major fail... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byBetty L. November 19, 2013

Stunning. Exceptional. Amazing. The Best Book Ever. It's official.

This was an exceptional book!!! I loved it soooooo much!!! I think it is probably the best book I have ever read! Stunning! The characters are very, very real,... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bykait19 December 10, 2013

more info

appropriate for ages 14-17.the book s a little slow in the beginning but becomes better in the middle. you have to give it a chance. in the last few chapters yo... Continue reading

What's the story?

A morning bus ride changes everything for Park Sheridan. He's minding his own business until a new girl -- a crazily dressed redhead with a scowl -- gets on and has nowhere to sit. Fearing the worst for her, he angrily swears at Eleanor to sit next to him, and despite the six inches of space she leaves between them, it's the start of something really special. Park is a sensitive half-Korean guy whose parents are still in love with each other, while Eleanor is an intelligent but often ridiculed girl from a poor, broken family. But every day, Eleanor and Park's seating arrangement leads to silently reading comics together, then talking about music, and eventually sharing a deep and abiding friendship that becomes an unforgettable first love.

Is it any good?

Author Rainbow Rowell touchingly explores the overwhelming nature of first love -- the kind of love that feels as if it can last a lifetime, that can help heal wounds and open doors. Eleanor and Park are both misfits in their Omaha high school, but they see the best and the beautiful in each other. Their passionate conversations and debates -- about everything from the role of women in comic books (Eleanor says they're too passive, Park disagrees) to the opening measures of  "Love Will Tear Us Apart" or the short-sightedness of Romeo and Juliet -- lays the foundation for a believable and poignant love story.

This is a fabulous book for mothers (especially those who grew up in the '80s!) to read along with their teen daughters. Not only will it spur substantive discussions, but it also will allow mothers to share their own perspectives on what and who they loved in high school. With witty dialogue and pitch-perfect descriptions of teen life in the mid-'80s, this is a story that will make your heart ache and then make it sing. If only every girl could meet a boy like Park, who, as Eleanor says, is not a boyfriend but a "champion." Forget the dazzling vampires who don't exist, girls, and find yourself the awesome boy on the bus -- the one who sees you not for how you dress but who you are.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Eleanor and Park's romance, which is not fluffy and sweet but  intense and life-changing. What does Eleanor mean when she says, "The me that's me right now will be his, always"? What do you think of their relationship's chances of survival?

  • What do you think of the author Rainbow Rowell's depiction of the '80s? Do Eleanor and Park's conversations about music and comic books make you interested in the artists or works they discuss? How do the pop-cultural references add to their characters?

  • How do the adults in Eleanor's and Park's lives affect the way they approach their relationship? Do Park's parents and grandparents make him more open to "love" than Eleanor's divorced and dysfunctional parents?

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For kids who love romance and the '80s

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