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.

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To: The Knife of Never Letting Go


To:
The Knife of Never Letting Go
Patrick Ness

Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee — whose thoughts Todd can hear too, whether he wants to or not — stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden — a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives.
But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought?

Dear Knife,

I’m writing you a letter because I feel the need to address certain issues that you’ve no doubt noticed we have. Now, there’s no need to overreact, okay? I just want to talk.

I’d been looking forward to our first encounter for ages. After all, every single person that had met you seemed to have fallen in love with you. And while I must admit I’m quite infatuated with you myself, you also make me want to tear my hair out and direct every swear word in my vocabulary at you.

There. I said it.

Look, you know I’m a huge fan of how creative you are. You know that. I have immense respect for the world you built – come on, Noise? Constantly broadcasting everything you think about to everybody else? Who thinks of something like that?! Also, the way you handled how different towns reacted to women being Quiet and men being Noisy? That was well thought out, well executed, and very very smart.

So that’s not the issue at all, here. YOU are brilliant. My problem is with that Todd kid of yours.

Okay, I’ll be honest. I admit to a little bias here.  I’m a HUGE dog-person, so every time Todd did anything that made poor little Manchee go, “Ow, Todd?” I wanted to just take a gun and shoot the damn kid. I know it’s not an ideal world. I know there are people out there that treat their own pets terribly. I know you talking about it is just your way of being “realistic”, but that doesn’t make it okay. There’s a reason I avoid books with animals in them like the plague and THIS IS WHY. I have a dog – an adorable little fluffball whose purpose in life is to get us to chase him around the house while he chomps on his squeaky toy and to make us feel like the world wouldn’t exist without us. I kid you not. ALL dogs just want to give their People love. They’re astoundingly selfless, and as long as you’re happy and safe? They’re happy. So when people treat their pets – dogs, especially – like little mister Todd here? IT MAKES ME MAD.

There are going to be a few spoilers now. I suggest you keep this letter away from those that don’t know you too well, yet.

People are awful, Knife. There’s no use trying to avoid talking about it. People do terrible, terrible things. And I know you understand that – it’s pretty evident from that 500-paged long conversation we had. Yet, I can’t help but feel you place a certain emphasis on “innocence being lost” when Todd has to kill another person, rather than the act of killing itself. Which is something I CANNOT agree with.

You know the Spackle? And Lemon Meringue? (Avoiding spoilers is a deeply ingrained habit, it would seem) Not okay, Knife. I could argue that leaving someone to die – someone that was put in that position in the first place because he was trying to save your worthless hide – that’s a whole lot worse than killing someone. I’d say that if you ever made the decision to do that, I don’t care what your excuse is, your “innocence” has already flown out the window.  Also, killing a non-human when it’s clearly terrified of you and has done nothing to provoke you? That, too.

ALSO. Leaving villages and towns to die because of you? Not cool.

Why was there so little thinking? You must warn them, the writing on the map said. What are the immediate questions you think of? Warn whom? Of what? Why? Where could the answers be? Possibly the book that came with the map or the map itself? Oh, I can’t read? Then why don’t I swallow my effing pride and ask somebody who can before something bad happens?!

I don’t get it, Knife. I just don’t get why so many bad things had to happen, one after the other.

And for what? I haven’t met your siblings yet, so maybe there’s more to Todd than meets the eye. But all this fuss just because he’s the only one in Prentisstown that hasn’t killed anybody yet? I find that a little hard to swallow.

Look, with Harry (have you met Harry?) – there’s a reason he needs to be kept alive. And a solid, unquestionable reason for Voldemort wanting him dead. With Todd, I can’t say I understand why the whole village is so eager to get their hands on him. I understand what he represents just fine. The extent they go to to capture him is just a little unrealistic, I think.

And, yes. I am aware that I survive on a healthy diet of fantasy – but when you create a setting, things are supposed to make sense within the frame you created. I had so many questions – and none of them deep or philosophical. They were mostly just along the lines of, “Why is this happening? What’s the point of all this?”

I know that it might seem like I…um…hate you. I don’t. Really. There were so many instances that made me want to give you the biggest bear hug in the history of Ever. It’s just that all these things were bothering me and I needed to clear the air. You understand, don’t you?

I’m still going to emphatically recommend you to every reader I know. And have heated debates about you. Don’t you worry.

Yours,

Tanya.

Why Frances Hardinge’s Twilight Robbery Should Be On Your Reading List.

Just LOOK at that gorgeous cover.

I can’t tell you how much I love this woman’s writing. I simply can’t. Ever since I read Fly By Night, I’ve been a fan. I can’t tell you much about what reading this book was like – I was in a daze for most of it – but if I said I was reduced to a creature that fervently kept turning the pages, marveling at how she makes words bend to her will, laughing really loudly every once in a while, staring wide-eyed at the book every time something unexpected happened (which, towards the end, was every ten minutes or so), all the while silently promising to go out and pick up every single book she has ever written and yell about how amazing she is to anybody willing to listen – I’d come somewhat close.

You need convincing?

#1: This is the sequel to Fly By Night. If you’ve read that? Just that sentence should be enough to get you running to the library/bookstore. If you haven’t read that – you’ll want to. Trust me.

#2: I’m going to give you little snippets from the book, okay? When I say this woman has a way with words, I’m not kidding.

Lost: one bonnet, two clogs. Kept in spite of the odds: two thumbs, one life.

*****

“I generally find,” Clent murmured after a pause, “that it is best to treat borrowed time the same way as borrowed money. Spend it with panache, and try to be somewhere else when it runs out.”

*****

Revenge is a dish best served unexpectedly and from a distance – like a thrown trifle.

#3: I’d love to keep quoting from the book all day, but I’m afraid I’d be throwing spoilers at you in the process. Instead, I present to you, Exhibit A:

option one reszI keep an emergency stash of bookmarks on my bedside table because, well, I’m lazy, okay? I hate having to look for one every time I need to put the book down. But then, as I settled in to start reading, I remembered that this was a Frances Hardinge book I was reading and that there were going to be LOTS of passages that I’d want to mark – far more than the seven bookmarks could cover. So I just tore up a sheet of paper I didn’t need and there you have it. Keep in mind that we’re not counting the ones in the parts of the book where I just gave up keeping track of them and concerned myself only with what came next. I definitely need to re-read this again, and soon.

#4: Every time, e-v-e-r-y blooming time I thought I had this book figured out, it just slapped me across the face and turned everything upside down. Now, I’d like to think I’m a fairly sharp reader and usually, I can figure out the general direction a book is going in. But Hardinge is able to wreak more havoc in ten pages than more most authors I’ve read do in a hundred.

#5: It’s got a homicidal goose. Yep. You heard me.

Since that time Saracen had been making a name for himself. That name was not ‘Saracen’. Indeed the name was more along the lines of ‘that hell-fowl’, ‘did-you-see-what-it-did-to-my-leg’, ‘kill-it-kill-it-there-it-goes’ or ‘what’s-that-chirfugging-goose-done-now’.

Look. You could wave your hand dismissively and say, “Oh, but it’s a book for children.” And you’d be right. It is. But you know what? It doesn’t read like that at all. From the very beginning you’re sucked into the world Hardinge creates – growing attached to the characters, puzzling things out as you go along, living the book. She  makes your brain jog, she does, and if I had been lucky enough to read this growing up, I’d be a LOT smarter than I am today. Without a doubt.

And the themes in this book? They’re beautifully handled. I had to write about the trends/taboos in YA and Children’s Literature for college last year, and my main complaint? A lot of parents and teachers ban books that give children “dangerous” ideas – somehow, they’re under the illusion that if things don’t get talked about, then they cease to exist in the child’s world. And I personally think that it’s the worst way to go about it. It’s the sensitive issues that need talking about. And that’s why authors that don’t talk down to children deserve to be applauded. Frances Hardinge is one such author. Between the two books, you have books being banned and burned because “Everybody knew that books were dangerous. Read the wrong book, it was said, and the words crawled around your brain on black legs and drove you mad, wicked mad.” She brings in atheism – the quiet questioning of whether upholding superstition would really do more good than simply being quick-witted, political injustice, coping with desperation, rebellion and the need for equality in society. All this without you even noticing. All this while you’re swiftly turning pages, silently cheering little Mosca Mye on.

As far as characters go – Mosca is a breath of fresh air. Armed with her “winged warzone”, Saracen, and accompanied by Eponymous Clent (poet and Manipulator of Words),  Mosca sees the world in a way I haven’t heard described before. You cannot help but fall in love with her – she’s smart, and hot-headed, and if she doesn’t like what’s going on, she’ll say exactly what’s on her mind, thankyouverymuch. She’s small and scared and resourceful and fearless and a very strong contender for my favourite book character of all time.

In conclusion? World-building? Amazing. Characters? Extremely well-rounded. Intelligent content? And then some. Writing? I can’t even come up with a good enough adjective.

Fly By Night and Twilight Robbery are books about the power of words. The power to create, destroy, manipulate, protect – the power of words to shape ideas in minds, to offer comfort, to overthrow oppressive regimes. The power to think.

Also, I really want a pet goose.

Psst! Have you checked out her website? It’s ridiculous. While you’re at it, read her About page.
For people in the US, you’ll find Twilight Robbery listed as Fly Trap. As far as I know, this only applies to the US.