In my last book haul, I featured Rainbow Rowell’s novel Eleanor & Park. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that my relationship with YA fiction isn’t a great one; I just can’t seem to get into it. Let’s see if this book has changed that.
(I’ve written only 3 reviews on this blog so far so I’m still experiencing with the format. Let me know what you think in the comments.)
For those of you who are not quite clear about what Eleanor & Park is actually about, let me give you a very quick run-through of the story. Eleanor is a quirky (mostly weird) girl who has just moved back with her mom, her alcoholic and violent step-father and her many (3 or 4? I read it I swear) siblings. On her first day of school, she meets a boy called Park on the bus. Park is half-Korean. Together, they experience first love and all its unsettling effects. But they also have to experience very adult circumstances that take them away from the carefreeness of being teenagers.
What I liked about the novel
- Characterisation and Perspectives:
I found Rowell’s characters very well-rounded and somewhat different than what I’m used to see. Most of the characters are not portrayed as either one thing or another but as complex individuals with their respective set of struggles and aspirations. Only Eleanor’s step-dad is shown in a fully negative light, but he is mostly described through Eleanor and Park’s perspectives. I think the character of Tina is a great example of how Rowell manages to create a person that seems completely unredeemable but who at the same time makes the reader question Eleanor’s judgement. Throughout her novel, Rowell makes a great use of perspectives and how they affect the way characters are presented to the reader.
- Theme of Race and Identity:
This point ties in with characterisation but I wanted to emphasise its importance in the text.The fact that the main protagonist is half-Asian was very interesting to me because I haven’t read many books from the perspective of a biracial individual. Rowell efficiently addresses Park’s struggle to identify with his Korean identity. I’ve seen many of my friends struggle with being in a liminal space between their different cultural identities and their self-identity and Rowell does a good job of representing this inner conflict. In the story, Eleanor is also befriended by two black girls called DeNice and Beebi. These two characters remain very enigmatic to me but they did bring in the question of race and being an outsider.
What I didn’t like about the novel
I am not going to lie; Eleanor & Park did not suddenly change my stance on YA fiction and here are the reasons why:
- Eye-rolling descriptions:
Maybe it’s because I’m not a teenager anymore but I found some of the descriptions in the book extremely cringe-worthy. I found myself rolling my eyes repeatedly on the tube and I sometimes felt like I was going to have to put the book down or it might impair my vision. Don’t get me wrong, my heart did flutter a little when he touched her hand for the first time but Eleanor’s reactions and Park’s cheesy comments were just a bit too much for me to handle. I’m sure I must have been like that when I was 16 but the charm has now withered and I just find it mildly repulsive.
I really did not like Eleanor as a character. I wasn’t particularly in love with any of the characters in this book but I was OK with most of them. However, I just couldn’t identify with Eleanor. This is going to make me sound like a terrible person but, despite all the terrible things that have happened to her and that keep on happening throughout the book, I found it difficult to feel sorry for her. To stop beating around the bush, I found Eleanor annoying. She’s a bit of a bitch to her siblings, she thinks everything has to be super-complicated… Now that I’m writing this, I realise that she’s just a typical teenage girl. Once again, I seem to have lost touch with my 16 year old self.
Rating: 2.5 stars
Even though Eleanor & Park hasn’t changed my feelings about YA literature, I don’t think I could ever completely give up on it. For any genre of literature, there is always that one book that can make you reconsider everything. I’m hoping this book will cross my reading path at some point. I think the safest bet would be YA fantasy so I might look into that (I take any recommendations I can get). In the meantime, I’ll be focussing on other genres and other things (like school and work and being an adult).
Links to my previous reviews:
- Us by David Nicholls
- The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
- The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling