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Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (2013)
Eleanor and Park (2013)
by Rainbow Rowell
Hardcover Edition
Publication Date: February 26th, 2013
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Buy a copy via Amazon.
Synopsis from Goodreads.

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under

My Thoughts:
I very much enjoyed Eleanor And Park. It was a warm and charming love story that started on a school bus. I loved watching their story unfold through comic books and music. Although at times the love story felt a bit too angsty and saccharine at parts, it also felt realistic. It felt like teenage love, where you everything seems infinitely more important. And it was okay to be unsure of yourself. I am usually not one for romances filled with endless love proclamations, but Eleanor and Park is so much more than that. Although I had gripes with character development, I still wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this novel. Definitely one of the best I’ve read so far this year.

Misfits? Who?
The blurb calls Eleanor and Park, “two star-crossed misfits.” But I have to disagree with that. I didn’t feel either of them were “misfits,” other than their physical appearances. They were not exactly misfits because everyone shunned them, but because they were so enamored with each other, everyone else was an annoyance to them. Or they never try to make friends in the first place, especially Eleanor. And then she blames it on her appearance. All of the “friend” characters had to approach them. Eleanor and Park were supposed to be these funny, “cool” people–but I didn’t want to be their friend.

Eleanor is made to be a misfit more because she is fat, has curly red hair, and wears weird clothes than because of her family circumstances. I found her family situation heartbreaking. It is what made the story addicting. I wanted to know more about her troubled family life, especially her mother. For me, Eleanor’s mother was the most intriguing character in the entire novel because of her conflicting emotions and her role in the family as a loving mother and good wife. And perhaps being divorced once has made her feel unloved to the point she can’t easily walk away from domestic abuse. And I wanted a lot more backstory for Eleanor’s step-father. However, Eleanor’s dysfunctional family is often overshadowed by her eccentric clothing (which I see as more of a personal choice than something forced upon her.) Despite these gripes, I didn’t mind Eleanor’s constant attention to her personal appearance (though I don’t think she really cares about remedying the situation.) Because that is what teenage girls do. I still wish she would own up to her fashion choices though and be like, “This is my style, deal with it.” Oh, and apparently can’t afford toothbrushes, so she has to rub salt on her teeth. I’d hate to imagine her dental hygiene.

I liked Park for being a minority. I feel there needs to be more minorities in YA literature, ones that aren’t used as cheap plot devices. You know how those stories go: ethnic kid goes to new school where everyone are vicious, racist bullies and then somehow everyone realizes they’re wrong. And then all the bullies apologize and everybody cheers. And then confetti falls. THE END. Park broke that stereotype. Despite his personal insecurities, People liked him. He had friends. What a miracle! However, here’s where my gripes come out. I only liked him because he was Asian. Take that quality away from him, and he wouldn’t be so special anymore. In fact, I was bored of him by the second half. I only wanted to figure out Eleanor’s family.

Let’s Talk About Being Asian-American:
Even though I am Asian American, I can’t relate to Park. This is not a fault of the novel at all. I’ve been raised in a very different time and place, and have never once felt uncomfortable with being Asian (though I wouldn’t mind being about a feet taller.) Perhaps because of my cultural background, my radar is alert (this just made me sound like a cyborg) when I come across Asian culture in literature. For the first time in a long while, I enjoyed how Asian-American culture was portrayed. Perhaps because Park is only half-Korean that many of the cultural aspects were left out. Park’s family seemed much more “American” than “Asian,” and I was completely fine with it. I didn’t mind the focus being on Eleanor and Park, and their teenage romance. I’m VERY grateful that Rowell didn’t use this opportunity to throw in a bunch of Korean words into the dialogue. Instead, the Korean accent is tackled in a much more subtle and humorous way. If I had a nickel for every misused Chinese word I’ve come across recently, I’d be rich. Stop using Google Translate, people!

Comic Book and Music References, Thank God I Read This After Watchmen:
Coincidently, when I got my hands on Eleanor and Park from the library, I was also assigned to read Alan Moore’s Watchmen for school. Thankfully I finished Watchmen before I started Eleanor and Park, so I wasn’t spoiled. (But really, why did the ending have to be spoiled? Or a I just the last person on Earth that hasn’t read Watchmen) Eleanor and Park is filled with comic book and music references–many of which went over my head. I only heard of The Smiths because two of their songs were on the 500 Days of Summer soundtrack. Shame on me.
I’m glad that these music/comic book references didn’t take away from the story. I think there always has to be a balance with references to pop culture. While they help set the scene in a specific time period, too much of them can alienate the reader. I found that balance was done well, and I appreciated them. Not because I knew all the references, but because the romantic idea of walkmans, vinyl records, comic book serials, and MIXTAPES did a wonderful job reminding me that it was the eighties, a time where mixtapes had to be painstakingly made with CASSETTE TAPES instead of dragging song files on ITunes. If someone took the time to make a mixtape for you, it meant something.

Overall, I really enjoyed Eleanor and Park’s story. I am usually not a “contemporary” romance reader (though it is set in the mid eighties, but to call it an historical sounds like something from the WWII era,) but Rainbow Rowell just won me over. Despite being a YA novel, I feel this book will also be a good fit for older adults–for nostalgic reasons. Now, onto Attachments!

P.S. Don’t read this book if you plan to read Watchmen for the first time sometime in the near future.

Rating: B+