8 Following

Confessions of a Bibliophile

An aspiring writer and bookstore employee with an incredibly bad book-buying habit... I'll read just about anything (so long as it will appeal to my interests in some way), but my main loves are YA and sci-fi/fantasy. I also like quirky history and science books and will book nerd. A lot. Currently in the process of weeding out my personal library. Find me on Twitter @princess_starr or check out my YA book, Snowfall, on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/240027

Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell “A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You've got to kick off with a killer, to grab the attention. Then you've got to take it up a notch, or cool it off a notch…oh, there are a lot of rules.” –Nick Hornby, High Fidelity*I’ve talked about how I tend to side-eye a lot of really hyped books. And I had heard a lot of early buzz on Eleanor & Park, read the glowing reviews of it, and then my store got hit with three copies from our district manager. So I picked it up, liked the first thirty pages or so, and decided “Ah, well, let’s dive in.”To get this out of the way, this is a really slow build-up. Not that a slow build-up is a bad thing, especially in YA nowadays where the norm is for “I HAVE MET THIS PERSON AND ITS TOTES TRU LUV 4EVA.” Kind of interesting that Rowell does discuss the instigators of instalove tropes, the star-crossed lovers from Verona themselves, only to have Eleanor and Park argue against why Romeo & Juliet is so overrated and popular…and still give a reason for why it’s lasted this long. But the point is, that this takes it time setting things up and then the last fifteen pages and FEELINGS HAPPEN. And I hate to harp on the fact that part of the reason that I really ended up loving this was because where are the YA books that openly say “No, your first love in high school isn’t going to last forever and ever or if you’re not with that first love it’s because of OMG TRAGEDY.” The fact that this opens up telling you that Eleanor and Park do not live happily ever after together ought to tell you something. But it doesn’t feel like Rowell wrote this to be that person who sits there and goes “No, happily ever after high school romances suck!” Again, it’s the R&J discussion that I think sums up this book nicely: “Adults want to remember what it’s like to be young and in love.”What helps even more is that this is the romance of two lonely kids who are complete outcasts (in different ways, and I don’t just mean in their appearances) and manage to reach out for each other. I loved that Park first gets intrigued by Eleanor not just because she’s the new girl and she’s omg so different, but because he recognizes some of the song titles she’s scribbled on her book covers and she’s reading his comics. And that’s how their relationship begins.Honestly, I love how much Eleanor and Park’s romance is also defined by music—not to the point where it overwhelms the book, but it’s still such an important part of their relationship. Like their different interpretations of the Smiths’ “How Soon is Now” lyrics, that was a great establishing moment for both characters, and really spoke volumes about their lives. And the night when they’re talking on the phone and talking about U2’s “Bad” was one of my absolute favorite scenes.(…I may have told my mother several times “OMG MOM. MOM. YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK AT ONE POINT. AFTER THE ONE AUNT MAYBE. YOU WOULD TOTALLY GET THIS.” (For the record, I was born in ’86, but damn if my parents didn’t raise me musically right.)(SPEAKING OF THE 80s AND THIS BOOK—I really kinda don’t like the assumption I’ve gotten at work that “Oh, teens aren’t going to like this because they wouldn’t understand what it was like back then!” Which 1. screw you, because five words: PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER and 2. Yeah, aside from the details of waiting for the other person to call and the communication aspect and the mix tapes, but you honestly can’t tell me there’s no one who would be able to relate to this? Just because “Well, it takes place when their parents would have been kids!” does NOT mean it goes in the adult section.) But let’s take the eponymous couple on their own terms. Anyone else could have just done a solo book on just Eleanor or Park and that perspective’s own personal story. (Actually, I would have argued that Eleanor would be more likely to have a book fully from her perspective.) But the thing that I liked about this is that it shows that Park’s life isn’t as perfect as Eleanor thinks it is. And we see Park realize that he can’t sweep Eleanor off her feet and they can be together and squash her wicked stepfather away. Let’s be fair here too, there’s really nothing original about either one’s story. Eleanor’s family is in a horrible situation that she’s helpless against. Park is an outsider, not just for being half-Asian and the odd one out in his family, but also for being into punk when everyone else is mainstream. Yes, these are things that have been done multiple times. But what I like is that Rowell doesn’t ignore the reality of the situation these two are in. Park’s family doesn’t suddenly have a realization to let Park just be himself and express himself in any way he chooses. Eleanor doesn’t get the courage to call family services or physically stops Ritchie and stands up to him. And I think that’s what made this book really work for me. Again, it’s not like realistic YA has never happened ever but (and here I sound like I’m harping again on this, I’m really not) in the current crop, it’s a breath of fresh air.I will say that Eleanor is the stronger of the two, personality-wise. I loved that her physical appearance is subverted by her personality—that we expect a girl nicknamed “Big Red” to bold and brash and bossy, but she’s really quiet and withdrawn. (And that even bites her; Eleanor does try to be polite, but her quietness and inward intensity make her seem more stand-offish and “not nice.”) She’s got more of a backbone than what you would expect of her, too. Not only in the fact that she tries to protect her family, but the quiet defiance that she gives whenever she’s teased at school. And it makes the ending all the more heart-breaking, in that we don’t really know if she’s managed to save her mother and siblings. Sure, we get to see her at a theater camp and trying to make new friends, and Park mentions that the kids aren’t at the house anymore, but that doesn’t mean that Eleanor’s mother has gotten herself out of a bad situation. And that final postcard—again, I knew it was coming, but ugh my heart stomped into a million pieces why does it hurt so much.The reveal of who was defacing Eleanor’s book covers was also handled really well—it’s enough of a false set-up to make you think that it could be Tina or another girl at school writing those things. (Although the only thing I never got is why did Eleanor never notice the writing until after gym, it doesn’t make sense in the reveal.) And it also helps with her characterization—I don’t think that Eleanor is innocent, but you can really see what her life and worldview used to be like until her mother married Ritchie.Even though I think that Eleanor has the stronger personality and story, it doesn’t mean that Park’s story and growth isn’t weaker just because I’ve seen his kind of story done eight thousand times. Obviously, Park doesn’t fit in with his family and school: he’s not American enough to fit in at school, and he’s not Korean enough to make his family happy. But the thing that I liked with his story is that even with the crushing feeling of “otherness,” Park’s parents still cared about him and Park wasn’t completely ostracized by everyone else at school. Park’s parents do genuinely want him to be happy, but it’s more of their disconnect that causes more of a riff than anything else. (I also really liked how the racism was handled; there’s no real slurs or bullying in Park’s case that we see firsthand, but the “All Asians know kung-fu” and the exotic view of Asian women are frankly discussed.) And again, I liked that Park does manage to find his place with punk music and expressing himself through the fashions and music.And what I loved about this is that Rowell not only puts this relationship at the forefront, but she never ignores the messiness of it all. Both Eleanor and Park are individually self-conscious about their looks, but that never stops them from wanting to bone the hell out of each other. As much as I hate the “Omg you went out with her?” trope, Eleanor does have more a valid reason why she’s hurt by Park’s admission that he used to date Tina. But even more important, Rowell doesn’t actually vilify Tina and gives her more layers than just the bitchy mean popular girl. (To the point that the people who shelter at first Eleanor at the end are Tina and Steve, not Park and his family.) The only thing that I think really suffers is that we don’t get as close of look at their other friends; I really wanted a lot more of DeNice and Beebi, because they were awesome. The question is, is Eleanor & Park worth all the hype? Is the reason for all that hype is because jaded YA readers/reviewers/writers are tired of the cliché that high school loves will last forever and this is a book that says on the first page that title couple not only will not end up marrying and having babies, but also gives the finger to the most cited and overrated story of young love? (Seriously, every review I’ve read brings up the R&J discussion, when it’s really not that important to the book as a whole.) And to be honest, I would actually say that a lot of the hype is overblown. This feels like a more word-of-mouth book, one that comes out with little press but omg it’s so good that you have to tell everyone to read it. But even with my kinda pessimistic view of the hype, I am not downplaying how fantastic a read this was. I absolutely loved it (to the point where both Rowell’s Attachments and her upcoming Fangirl have shot up on my to-read list; the latter sounds amazing and I need it now) and have been heartily recommending this to everyone. Even if you are turned off by the hype, I still say that it is worth reading Eleanor & Park in the end.*(…I…I didn’t realize how appropriate that quote is to this book, oh my God.)