Friday 31 December 2021

BOOK REVIEW: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Genre: YA Contemporary Romance / Coming of Age
Publication Date: 12th April 2012

Book Description:
When Eleanor first meets Park, she thinks he's obnoxious. When Park first meets Eleanor, he thinks she's weird. It is 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.

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I've been meaning to read this book ever since it first came out. I know it's been almost a decade now, but better late than never. It would be easy to describe Eleanor and Park as two weird outcasts who fall in love over the course of a few weeks as they sit together on the bus journey to school. But Eleanor and Park are far more complex than that. There is a lot more to Eleanor and Park than meets the eye, something these characters both acknowledge when they start sharing their passion for storytelling, specifically comic books. When Eleanor and Park first meet, neither one liked the other, but once Eleanor gets a peek at Park's comic books, something changes between them. Soon they're sharing comic books and mix tapes.

I won't lie. It was hard to ignore the racial stereotypes running throughout the book, but I'm choosing to focus my attention on other aspects of the story that were easier to digest, which is the story about two outcasts learning to love and accept what they least like about themselves by  accepting each other just the way they are. I wouldn't say I was one hundred percent sold on Park's portrayal as an outcast considering he was liked by many girls in his school, was often described as being cute, and even the bully of the school seemed to have a certain level of respect for him. He definitely wasn't your typical loser, far from it, actually. Being the only Asian kid in his community, I did sympathise with the constant stereotypes he faced on a daily basis. I felt there should have been more focus on the effects being the only Asian kid in town had on Park emotionally and mentally, but there wasn't much said on how Park felt, like perhaps he felt ostracised, which would explain why he liked to keep to himself and  keep from drawing attention to himself being that he was an easy target. I didn't fully believe Park's father's animosity towards him. He didn't like Park because he thought his son was too feminine or perhaps because he thought Park might be gay? When Park started bringing Eleanor over to their house, his father still seemed somewhat displeased with Park, so I couldn't grasp what the actual deal was with his father. He marries a Korean woman, has a child with her and then dislikes his son because he isn't how he wanted him to be? What? Personally, I quite liked Park. He was a likeable character with great taste in comics and music. He's a kid trying to find his place in the town and his home. I so wish he had a better story arc because there was so much potential for his character, but it just felt as though all the interesting things that could have been explored were shoved under the carpet. Still, he was a pleasant character who treated Eleanor like a princess, so he's okay in my book.

Eleanor's portrayal was a lot easier to contend with. She had a neglectful mother and a violent stepfather and with her dress sense and hair, she couldn't help but stand out in a crowd. Eleanor has no luck in the parent department. Becoming friends with Park was the escape she needed. Her stepfather, Richie, despises Eleanor for reasons that are not fully explored, however, he hated her enough to have thrown her out of her home a year ago. Eleanor's mother is little to no help when it comes to protecting her children from the hostile environment they live in. When things escalates at home, Eleanor is left with no option but to flee, and her only help comes from a family member we know little to nothing about. At least we know she liked this family member, so that's better than nothing, I suppose. Eleanor went through a lot and is quite bold and brave. I liked that she had insecurities even though she pretended as though she care what others thought about her. She was a guarded character, which was understandable given her upbringing. I liked how her character unfolded. It didn't feel forced. I think that's what I liked most about the interaction between Eleanor and Park: how natural it felt. Their relationship felt real.

I liked the slow buildup of the romance and chemistry between Park and Eleanor. I liked that they started off as friends before progressing into a romantic connection. I found Eleanor's story more interesting to read about than Park's as I found Eleanor's family issues were better explored and made more sense when it came to understanding the interaction between her and her family. I would have liked a little more info on Richie other than the fact that he was a bully. Some context would have given the story more depth. It would have also been nice to have had a more developed character in Eleanor's mother. A lot of the characters appear as just empty vessels, filling the space. What's the motive behind their actions? What's their backstory?

I'm not a fan of the ending, but I won't say I hated it entirely. It just wasn't satisfying. I just wanted a little more. Overall, this was a good read with a lot of potential to be great. Eleanor and Park were interesting characters. The story just needed more depth and more fleshed out characters to make it feel more complete.


Rating: 3 Star
Source: Own Copy

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