It’s 1986. Eleanor is the new girl and not only is she genetically made to look like a victim, but her bizarre fashion sense does her no favours. Unlike Eleanor, Park has a relatively normal family. The son of a Vietnam war veteran and Korean native, Park is a music junkie and a boss in tae kwondo. Most of the time, he keeps to himself.
When Eleanor first meets Park, she thinks he’s obnoxious. When Park first meets Eleanor, he thinks she’s weird. It’s hate at first sight. But as they suffer each other’s company in silence on the bus rides from and to home every day, Eleanor and Park realise that first impressions can be deceiving. Slowly over time, these two individuals develop a relationship that is formed around stuff like reading comics together, exchanging mix tapes and other cool ‘nerd’ things like Star Wars and Shakespeare.
UPDATE: After a couple of months of pondering why this book didn’t sit right with me, I saw that a friend on GoodReads had linked this article about the book in her review which basically sums up everything about Eleanor and Park which left a bitter taste in my mouth. It’s also prompted me to revise my review. I initially kindly gave three stars to Eleanor and Park, but I’ve decided that it’s definitely more a two star read for me.
Everyone’s been raving about Rainbow Rowell and her writing for months on end. I’ve had a few of her books on my to-read list for what has felt like years, so I thought it was finally time to pick up Eleanor & Park when I saw it in Waterstones.
Allow me to clarify that I didn’t completely hate Eleanor & Park, but I didn’t love it either. There were far too many issues that I couldn’t turn a blind eye to and because this is an edit, I feel like I had held back from initially saying what I thought of it.
The bond that grew between Eleanor and Park was quite sweet. The exchanging of mix tapes, the evening calls, the sneaking out were reminiscent of an old school love story. It was adorable. It’s rare that I read something where both characters are into comic books and ’80s music without being completely typecast as total geeks. Sure, Eleanor and Park are both social misfits, but they do manage to get by in the world of social hierarchy and bullies. Among the conversations about Magneto and Han Solo, I could find myself relating to both Eleanor and Park. Eleanor in the fact that she’s had go through such a traumatic time at school (I feel you, girl!) and Park because it seems like a hopeless romantic (and the obvious fact that we’re both Asian).
However, I think one of the major problems I had with this novel is that the progression to their relationship was a bit blink-and-you-miss-it. One minute they’re reluctant bus partners, then they emerge into friendship naturally and suddenly they make that big jump to boyfriend and girlfriend. It’s not insta-love, but it came across as quite forced especially at a few parts in the book where it didn’t seem that Eleanor wholly reciprocated Park’s undying feelings for her. I guess that’s part of the whole mystery isn’t it? Why doesn’t she say ‘I love you’ back instead of ‘I know’? What were the last three words? I presume Rowell wants us hopeless romantics to channel our inner Park and believe that she finally said ‘I love you’ to him, but if anything that cliffhanger just made me more frustrated with the novel.
Following on, I liked how Rowell initially took their course on a different road at the start. The way neither of them spoke to each other, the way she sneakily read his comics and the stolen glances. But once they were together, it quickly turned to the romantic cliches of “I’ll die if I never see him again”. And this is coming from the girl who rubbished Romeo and Juliet? Hold up. You’ve known him a few weeks and you’ve barely spoken.
Just a trigger warning to anyone planning to read Eleanor & Park. Abuse is a big and frequent device of this novel. The book is literally a split between violence and emotional abuse, and this gushy romance between two fifteen-year-old kids. I’m supposed to believe that it’s true love, but I don’t think either of these characters, as well rounded and leveled as they are, know what love really is. At one point, Park’s hurt that Eleanor fell asleep in the car instead of talking to him while he drives all the way to Minnesota. I mean, let’s back it up Mr, she’s running away from her abusive step-dad. Idle chit-chat while you drive is the last thing on her mind.
Perhaps I’m really cold-hearted? As sweet as the youthful air of the romance is, I felt there was no true plot. There was the ongoing story line of the emotionally abusive notes written on Eleanor’s books which were partly resolved at the last minute. The comics and music that formed their relationship no longer became relevant and I’m not sure what left the bitter state in my mouth, but there was just so much casual racism in this book. It made me really uncomfortable reading this.
Long story short, it’s problematic and quite racist as hell. Please read this article before you decide to pick up the book because I’m sure it would be triggering to some. Plus, I don’t want anyone to waste their money (like I did) on this book unless their wholeheartedly aware of what this book entails i.e. casual racism and ignorance.
I have to say that it didn’t give me much of a great first impression of Rowell and her writing. I felt it was a complex story that just wasn’t fleshed out. The romance was too immediate which didn’t make it completely believable in the slightest. Somehow, I think Eleanor and Park would be more suited to just being friends.