I have to start my post on “Eleanor & Park” by Rainbow Rowell with a confession- I finished the book over a week and a half ago but only just had time to actually type up my notes on this book into a review due to school work eating away at my time! I’ve vowed to dedicate some of this evening to “blog housekeeping” as I also have another review to type. Anyway… back to the book in question! I appreciate that this review may be controversial because of the inexplicable popularity of this book, but I now know that reading it was a mistake! Its fantastic reviews led me to think that “Eleanor & Park” would have been the book that encouraged me to actually read some YA romance- in reality it just made me more determined to give the genre a wide berth! Despite what some may suggest, I genuinely feel that my dislike of this book had nothing to do with my general disdain for YA (with a few notable exceptions).
Several things about the characters in this book infuriated me, but the most prevalent of these had to be the racial stereotypes! Park himself felt like your stereotypical Asian kid, and Eleanor’s black female friends were so stereotypical that the characters began to feel as though they were intended to be satirical. With regards to Eleanor herself, I soon discovered that I hated everything about her other then her dress sense and love of The Beatles- both relatively minor aspects of her irritating personality. Furthermore, it felt as though Rowell was trying far too hard to make Eleanor seem unique. Whilst I in no way wish to undermine the serious issues associated with child abuse, Eleanor’s stepfather Richie felt like your usual abusive character with dodgy pass times and was not particularly scary. I further thought that Eleanor’s Mother allowing her children to get in a car with a drunken Richie to keep the peace seemed horribly unrealistic, even for a domestic abuse victim! Our teenage protagonists- Eleanor and Park- seemed so ‘needy’ when around eachother that they became almost creepy. This perception wasn’t helped by their horribly cheesy and atrociously written romance scenes! Then there was Eleanor’s jealousy over a girlfriend Park had aged eleven… Having said that, the couple’s problems were never allowed to last due to Rowell seemingly wishing to make them into unrealistic, plastic like versions of real teens. As the story progressed it was irritating to see Park develop the stereotypical all-American daddy issues with a father who wished for him to be more masculine. The character further infuriated me by managing to be stereotypical about Asians despite being one himself! To top it all off his parents were unrealistically completely fine with him driving hundreds of miles to save Eleanor’s neck when calling the police would have been a plausible and much easier solution to her troubles.
In terms of Rowell’s writing, it was frequently painful to read! The dialogue was particularly hideous. I appreciate that bullies can be childish, but the insults hurled at Eleanor seemed far too infantile. Then there was the interaction between Eleanor and Park themselves- was the nicest thing Park could say about Eleanor really that her hair came to a point?! The stereotypical hands edging closer to each other scenes were also nauseating…. As was Park’s obsession with running his Hans through Eleanor’s hair. It very quickly began to feel that every scene involving the protagonists was going to make me cringe! This opinion didn’t change. Neither did my verdict on the fact Rowell doesn’t understand how teens speak to one another. In terms of moronic dialogue the line “It sounds dark” was a particular gem! It was lines such as this one that made me laugh during the novel’s “heartfelt” moments. Even the book’s more famous quotes suddenly seemed silly or cheesy when placed in context. The only aspect of the writing I can honestly say I enjoyed was the references to 1980’s culture. I will also at least accept that Rowell was brave to tackle the issues of domestic abuse within a YA novel. Despite this, the issue was far from well executed.
The whole novel simply felt like a failed analogy on teenagers and their behaviour littered with PG make out scenes and topped off with a predictable ending and dodgy euphemisms.