Fans of Attachments author Rainbow Rowell, rejoice! Rowell makes her YA debut with Eleanor & Park (out today), which Rowell describes as a combination of Juno, Romeo and Juliet, and a few choice episodes of Dawson’s Creek. (“Minus pregnancy, poison, and Dawson” natch.) Here, Rowell answers some of our burning questions about the novel. After that, click through to read an exclusive excerpt of Eleanor & Park.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where did you come up with the idea for Eleanor & Park?
RAINBOW ROWELL: I’ve 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.
Why did you decide to set it in the ’80s?
Well, I’m only a little bit younger than these characters, so part of it was just setting it in an era that was emotionally potent for me. But I also wanted to write about the way alternative culture was just starting to seep into the Midwest in the mid-’80s. (Thanks to cable TV, I think.) Pre-Internet, we were so isolated. All we had was MTV and word of mouth. I remember the first time I heard the Sundays and They Might Be Giants—the first time I read a Sandman comic. It was so thrilling. It made me feel like the world was bigger than I’d ever realized. I wanted to give Eleanor that feeling—that weird something’s out there stomachache that I still have when I think about 1986.
Why does music play such an important role in the book? Are you a big music fan yourself?
Yeah, music is really important to me. It’s how I sort my life. (Oh, right, 2004—that was the summer that I couldn’t stop listening to Clay Aiken and Kanye West.) And it’s also a big part of my writing process. I use songs to help me stay in a certain frame of mind, or to set the tone for a scene. Sometimes I start a scene, knowing that I want it to feel like a specific song. Like, in this book, when Eleanor is first sitting next to Park on the bus, I wanted it to feel like “A Feeling” by Throwing Muses.
As far as incorporating that into the plot, before the Internet, music was so much more precious. It was harder to discover, harder to own. When Park offers Eleanor new music, it’s a powerful thing he’s giving her.
Is Eleanor and Park a standalone book? I thought the ending was really satisfying, but it’s not your typical happily ever after story.
Actually and officially? Yes. In my head? No. I started plotting a sequel even as I writing Eleanor & Park—almost as a way to comfort myself, because I knew the characters wouldn’t get a clean, neat ending. Seventeen-year-olds don’t get endings; they get beginnings. I thought about what would happen to the two of them, where they’d go from here. (My agent accused me of writing my own fan fiction.) I thought about how it might be destructive to find true love so young. How could you have a normal, stupid high school relationship with someone else after that?
So, to answer your question—yes, I’d love to write a sequel, though not necessarily YA. I want to write about Eleanor and Park as adults, maybe at 28 or 30.
Do you have any other projects in the works?
Fangirl is another YA book, and it comes out in September. The three-second pitch is: a coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love. It’s about a girl whose twin sister sort of abandons her just before they start college. The main character, Cath, isn’t sure she can make it through freshman year on her own – she isn’t even sure she wants to. She’s really into fandom, and has always felt more comfortable online than face-to-face. It is a love story, though, so—spoiler alert—she makes it out of her dorm room.
The book I’m writing now is for adults—or, I should say, about adults. It’s about a woman who gets an unusual opportunity to save her marriage. But saving her marriage might mean making sure it never happened. There’s a little bit of sci-fi to the story, which is a first for me. And a little bit of fantasy in Fangirl. I think I’m building up to writing straight-up sci-fi/fantasy.
UP NEXT: Read an exclusive excerpt of Eleanor & Park