Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell’s YA debut, is the story of two star-crossed misfits—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. Eleanor & Park is already a favorite among best-selling authors; Gayle Forman calls it “A sexy, smart romance” and John Green said “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.”
What inspired you to write a misfits-in-love story like Eleanor & Park?
I have always, always wanted to write a first love story. I feel like, when you’re 16, you have the greatest-ever capacity for romantic love. You fall in love with every cell of your body. But, at the same time, at that age, you have so little to offer the person you love. You don’t belong to yourself quite yet—you still have school and your parents, you don’t even have your own space…
And you also know that what you’re feeling probably won’t last. First love usually doesn’t. There’s a built-in tragedy to falling (truly) in love when you’re 16. It’s like every 16-year-old in love is either Romeo or Juliet. That is what I wanted to write about.
Eleanor & Park covers a lot of ground, from difficult family situations to the way music can open up a new world. But most of all, it’s about first love. Is that what you set out to write about?
My motivation was to make people actually feel love, to give them a realistic view of it. If they’re young and never been in love, for them to know – yes, this is how it feels. And if they’re older and they have, to feel it as a sense memory.
Eleanor and Park don’t necessarily look like conventional YA main characters – Eleanor is bullied because of her weight, and Park is smaller and the only Asian kid in the neighborhood. What was your thought process behind creating them that way?
Well, they’re not conventional in that they don’t look like the models that usually end up on teen magazine and book covers. But who does look like that? Nobody I’ve ever been attracted to.
I think the whole idea of conventional beauty and attractiveness is a lie. You can say that Ryan Gosling is handsome, or that Natalie Portman is beautiful. But does it matter? When you look at the person you love, you see that person in a way no one else can. Attraction is what happens between you.
Eleanor and Park were both attractive to me; when I was writing this book, I was half in love with both of them.
Your first book, Attachments, was an
adult novel -- why switch to young adult now?
I didn't do it consciously. This was just the story I wanted to tell next -- the only story in my head, at the time -- and I didn't even realize that Eleanor & Park would be YA, at first. But once I started working through that with my editor, it felt like a good fit. I've always read a lot of YA, and I'm drawn to movies and TV shows about teenagers. (Freaks and Geeks is my all-time favorite.) I think maybe I'm still trying to process everything I felt/saw/survived from 13 to 20.
What can you tell us about your upcoming book Fangirl?
It’s about a girl who doesn’t think she’s good at life—but she’s really good at being a fan. She feels more comfortable in fandom. She’s been writing fan fiction about the same two characters—Simon and Baz—since she was 12, and she’s gotten kind of famous in that world.
The book is about her first year of college. She’s got a mean roommate (with a too-friendly boyfriend). Her twin sister’s ignoring her, her dad’s a mess, her writing professor is pushing her too hard…She keeps having to rise to the occasion, but all she really wants to do is stay in her room and write more Simon/Baz.
Also, she falls in love. (Because, in my books, somebody always falls in love.)