A review of
Eleanor & Park
by Rainbow Rowell
Published by St. Martin’s Press, 2013
My rating: 6/10 stars
What’s it about?
Two teenage misfits fall in love. Set in the ’80s, Eleanor & Park tells the story of chubby redhead Eleanor and half-Korean Park as they get to know each other and eventually fall in love, despite Eleanor’s difficult family life.
What Eleanor & Park reminds me of:
1980’s John Hughes movies, but without the shallow messages
What I liked about the book:
Rainbow Rowell’s writing. It’s not secret, I loved her third novel, Fangirl (which I fangirled over in this review), and I enjoyed her writing equally in Eleanor & Park. She has a distinct, but not distracting, voice, and I enjoyed how she flipped between Park’s and Eleanor’s different points-of-view. It was refreshing to read a novel that tells both sides of the story, in a well-constructed and meaningful way.
The minor characters. I actually loved all of the minor characters, possibly more-so than the titular characters themselves, characters like Park’s Tom Sellock-esque father, Park’s Korean immigrant mother, Eleanor’s frightened mother, et cetera. They all seemed very real and rounded out for minor characters. That’s not to say I didn’t like Eleanor or Park, but there wasn’t very much intrigue to them.
How Park loves Eleanor just the way she is. Despite my lack-of-enthusiasm for their love story (see below), I really appreciate how the author managed to write a male protagonist who isn’t a controlling jerk, and who really does love the female character despite all of her flaws. Eleanor is nothing if not flawed. She’s sarcastic and mean, she has (understandable) trust issues, and is not described as being stereotypically beautiful, but Park falls for her none-the-less. I appreciate that.
What I liked least about the book:
The love story sap. I must say, I read this book because I love Rainbow Rowell, not because I had any particular interest in reading a teenage love story. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good romantic subplot thrown in, but it isn’t often I choose to read a book that is both
a) set in the “real world”, and
b) primarily a love story.
I just don’t go down that road. I’m happy to read a story about something else that has romance in it (I consider Fangirl to be a book mostly about growing up and moving to college, with a little love story to sweeten the deal), but I’m very cynical when it comes to teenage romances and I couldn’t hide my cynicism while reading Eleanor & Park. It’s just got too many cheesy moments.
While Eleanor & Park would not be the first book to come to mind when recommending YA fiction, I am glad I read it. Read if you like teen romance stories, family drama, first kisses and references to the 1980s.