Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell

This isn’t going to be a positive review, so if the book is one of your favourites? You’ve been warned.

Eleanor & Park has been flooding my Goodreads feed and WordPress dash for ages now, and after finally getting my hands on a copy, I prepared myself for the cutesy, adorable, “intelligent” book I had been promised by so many reviews.

“Different”, they said. “Redefines the genre”, they said. “Rowell is like a female John Green”, they said.

Oh, no. No no no.

I am extremely upset with this book. Maybe it’s because I’m “Asian”, I don’t know, but the endless stereotypes that kept appearing – one after the other – just got on my nerves.

To start with – Park’s Korean mother speaks in terrible broken English. Seriously? SERIOUSLY?! You’re going to go there? I’m so furious about this. We’re told that she came from a big family, and when she met Park’s Dad, a veteran, she relocated to Omaha. And that’s it. That’s her entire cultural history. Does Park’s upbringing have any Korean influences? No. Are you telling me that once you leave your country and set up camp elsewhere – no matter what your reasons – your cultural identity isn’t going to bleed through? Into whatever it is you decide to do after that?

And Park is 16 in the book, yes? That gives his mother – what? 20 odd years to perfect her English even if it wasn’t that great to begin with? (something I’m still not happy about – but it’s Rowell’s story and let’s just assume that’s the case.) And what? We’re supposed to believe that because she’s Korean, she talks like that and yet, has managed to shut out all her cultural allegiances? Really?

And she left Korea for love, we’re told. Okay, gotcha. This isn’t a story about her “escaping” her country for whatever reason, right? The only reason she left was because she was madly in love? Then why on earth isn’t she in touch with her family?

I’m sorry. I find all of this a little hard to digest.

Also, Park. While I think he’s probably the only character in the book I sort-of like, his endless complaints about his “Asian appearance” is just ARRRGH. Of all the things?! Of all the things that could bother him?! You know what, I’d get it if it was one of the things, but the only thing?

Don’t even get me started on Eleanor. I’m trying to excuse the things about her that I find…shall we say problematic? Anyway, I’m trying to attribute it to the fact that she has a lot on her plate. A truly huge list of things she has to deal with. Let’s just leave it at that.

I’ll tell you what my main issue with this book was? It tried too hard. It tried to be about Nerd Culture. It tried to be about Teenage Angst. It tried to be about First Love. It tried to be about Coping, and Dealing With Unfairness and Body Issues and a Great Many Other Things. And ultimately, about having that one person be there for you to pull you through all the crap happening in your life.

And in trying to achieve all that, not enough attention was paid to what could go wrong. Eleanor and Park are cute from time to time, but do I believe in them? Do I believe that what they have is more than bonding over music and comic books and the pangs of first love? No, I don’t. Eleanor and Park found each other at a time when both of them needed someone to lean on. And that creates a strong bond, yes. But it’s been my experience that that just isn’t enough. And I cannot help but point out that they don’t really know each other all that well. They don’t. And no matter how madly in love you are, no matter how somebody makes you feel, no matter how many voids it feels like that person fills – that kind of thing is going to catch up with you.

There’s this scene in the book where the class is reading Romeo and Juliet and their English teacher asks Eleanor if she thinks it’s tragic. And she rolls her eyes and says it’s obvious that Shakespeare is making fun of them.


“Romeo and Juliet are just two rich kids who’ve always gotten every little thing they wanted. And now, they think they want each other.”
“They’re in love …” Mr. Stessman said, clutching his heart.
“They don’t even know each other,” she said.
“It was love at first sight.”
“It was, ‘Oh my God, he’s so cute’ at first sight.”

 

And that. That is how I feel about the two of them. Maybe not the ‘at first sight’ part, no. But far too much emphasis is placed on how they see each other physically and almost nothing about how they connect on an intellectual and emotional level. And no, that is something that should be apparent without the author having to state it. It should just be there. In their conversations, in the things that make them laugh – but all we get is how cute they think the other is.

Which is a huge problem for me because that’s what is supposed to get them through all the other emotional baggage in the book. That’s what EVERYTHING rests on, and if the foundation is shaky then what are you building your castle on?

 

[Spoiler: Highlight to read]

Also, all throughout the book, somebody keeps scribbling distressing notes on Eleanor’s notebooks and at one point in the book, Park accuses Eleanor of writing them herself. She storms out (I approve) and after not seeing each other for – two weeks? – Park raps on her window in the middle of the night, they meet in secret, he greets her with a kiss (without any preamble), apologizes, and she’s just okay with him again. What the hell? What. The. Hell?

I don’t know. I wanted to love this book so much, because all said and done, I’m a sucker for a good old-fashioned romance. And books peppered with pop-culture/comic book references. But all these things just got in the way and I spent a majority of my time feeling irritated. While I can certainly see the appeal, this book just wound me up far too much to enjoy it.