So, I’m totally aware that this post is beyond late, but as I’ve started introducing more book reviews on the blog, I’m catching up on a ton of stuff that I read during the school year while I was in Europe. I’m so excited to bring to you guys today’s book review of Eleanor and Park, because as you’ll probably remember, I adored Fangirl (also by Rowell) when I first read it about a year ago. As usual with my newer and more-improved reviews, it will be totally spoiler free! So, onto the fun part!
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ELEANOR & PARK
“Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive.”
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Genre: YA Contemporary Romance
Themes: Body image, abuse, coming-of-age
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Days I took to Read: 14
ABOUT THE BOOK
For two high school misfits in 1986, true love seemed like something that only appears in fairy tales. Park never imagined he could see himself with someone as… unique as Eleanor, the weird girl who seemingly wore all the clothes in her closet in one outfit and rolled her eyes before turning away from the bullies on the bus. He was a semi-popular kid with a good family background, and that kind of status-quo breakage didn’t just happen all the time.
And yet, he can’t seem to get her out of his mind.
Eleanor, on the other hand, has far too much to deal with to worry about the cute boy who offers her a seat next to him on the bus. There’s the “stepfather” situation at home, the fact that she and her siblings live in one, crammed room, and that she looks like a bloated whale next to all the flatter, cuter, less-redheaded girls at school. At least, she thinks she does.
But it’s only high school, right?
Alright, so I went into this book with really high hopes, because like I said, I absolutely loved Fangirl. Plus, this book was the Goodreads Choice Winner for 2013 and is critically acclaimed by pretty much everyone.
From the surface, it felt like an adorable, John Hughes-worthy coming-of-age high school romance. With all the involvement of 1980s bands, I kept picturing the ending to be Park holding up speakers to Eleanor’s tiny bedroom a-la Say Anything. But to be completely honest, that’s where most of my love for this book ended.
For one, Eleanor is one of the most annoying characters I’ve ever read. I wanted to like her, I really did. In fact, there were times I would read a passage, get angry with how she was acting or thinking, and close the book to take a breather and come back to it when I was calmer, only to find that I was still just as annoyed with her behavior. I do think that she can have some leeway, due to the crap home-life she was given, but that only goes so far. Then, her crush on Park kind of started to send me creepy vibes, until I finally just had to come to terms with the fact that as her character, it might just be the way she reacts, as a sort of coping mechanism.
Park, on the other hand, I thought was fine, when he was first introduced. He has his own baggage, coming from a mixed-race Asian family, as well as trying to become his own person and embrace his love for punk rock by wearing eyeliner, to his dad’s dismay. His father is definitely a sort of reflection of Eleanor’s step-father, only Park was given the bigger stick. He seemed to have a good-ish head on his shoulders, that is, until he fell in love with Eleanor pretty much overnight.
The main problem that I think I had with this book as a whole is that the two go from not friendship to death-defying love faster than I can blink. For me, the transition from not speaking to becoming friends and bonding over music and comics was totally believable. I thought it was adorable and lighthearted and fun, and a much-needed break from the issues Eleanor had at home. However, it seems like the second that they each find out that the other one likes them back, it goes Romeo and Juliet real fast. Suddenly, the two are making remarks like “I’m nothing without him” and “She’s the only thing I ever look forward to” and “I’ll die if we’re not together forever”.
I get it. They’re in high school, their emotions run faster than their logic and realistic expectations, and they’re in “young love”. But seriously, I couldn’t keep a straight face while reading some of the things they said about each other, when they haven’t known each other for even more than a couple months at most.
That being said, the writing style and word choices that Rowell uses are fabulous, a combination of simple sentence structures and flowy language switches between the shifting POV made me think so much about kids going through SAT practice and learning new words and trying to use them in daily conversation. In this situation, it was believable for me to have vastly unique wording and phraseology, including a bit of, er… choice language. (For those of you who can’t read my tone through italics alone, there’s quite a bit of profanity in this book).
All in all, apart from the rushed romance, I did enjoy this book. However, I also feel like it had a lot of potential (in my eyes, at least) that it wasn’t able to reach. I don’t think the romance would have felt as speedy if it matched the pacing of the friendship, which took forever and a day. At least that way, it might have felt more balanced and their feelings for each other would be realistic for me.