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Rainbow Rowell was born on February 24, 1973 in Omaha, Nebraska, where Eleanor & Park is set. Rowell worked at the Omaha World Herald as a columnist and ad copywriter from 1995 until 2012. During that time, she wrote her first novel, Attachments, which was published in 2011. Although Attachments received favorable attention, Eleanor & Park, published in February 2013, was Rowell’s breakout hit.
Critics and audiences responded very favorably to Eleanor & Park. John Green, the author of bestselling young adult fiction Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars, gave Eleanor & Park a glowing review in The New York Times, writing that the novel reminded him “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.” At the time, John Green was a very prominent Internet presence as well as YA author, and the Green stamp of approval helped launch Eleanor & Park from a well-received book to a hit. Eleanor & Park won several major awards for children’s and young adult fiction. In 2014, DreamWorks purchased the rights to make a movie of the novel, and Rowell was asked to write the screenplay, but in May 2016, she announced on Twitter that the film was no longer in development and that the rights had reverted back to her.
Eleanor & Park sparked controversy in 2013, when a parents’ group in Anoka-Hennepin School District, the largest district in Minnesota, called the novel profane and demanded its removal from library shelves. Rowell was disinvited to speak at a library event about the book, which, ironically, had been scheduled to occur during Banned Books Week. Anoka-Hennipin School District, which was conservative politician Michelle Bachmann’s home district, has become notorious for fostering an anti-LGBT environment in its schools. However, when the Anoka High principal convened a committee of parents, teachers, and administrators to review the book, the committee agreed that it was suitable for high school students to read. In an interview with Daniel M. Lavery for the website The Toast, Rowell expressed her disappointment with Anoka-Hennepin’s censorship, telling Lavery, “When these people call Eleanor & Park an obscene story, I feel like they're saying that rising above your situation isn't possible. That if you grow up in an ugly situation, your story isn't even fit for good people's ears. That ugly things cancel out everything beautiful.”
Like The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Catcher in the Rye, Eleanor & Park emphasizes realistic portrayals of teenage experiences that do not shy away from difficult emotional truths. Although the novel is set in the 1980s, Eleanor & Park addresses many issues that contemporary teens face, such as body image concerns. Rowell has clarified in a blog post on her website that Eleanor is heavy, but many of Eleanor’s insecurities stem more from her perceived status as an outsider rather than from her physical appearance. Eleanor & Park also confronts the themes of domestic abuse, child abuse, and bullying.
Rowell has received attention for her disparate styles of writing. Although most of her books feature misfits and characters that find themselves in uncomfortable social settings, she writes in a wide variety of genres and styles. For instance, in 2013 Rowell published Fangirl, a novel about a socially anxious freshman in college who spends most of her time writing fan fiction based on a book series about a boy magician named Simon Snow. In 2015, Rowell published Carry On, a stand-alone novel based on the Simon Snow book series in Fangirl. Carry On is itself fan fiction of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels.