Title: Eleanor and Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Review Copy: lovely local library
Availability: On shelves now
Summary: 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. [Image and summary via Goodreads]
Review: I’ve heard so many good things about Eleanor and Park, so I just had to see for myself – plus, one out of two main characters is a cute half-Korean boy? Sounds like good times to me. (Also, all of Rainbow Rowell’s books have the sweetest covers! Is it sorcery?)
What I loved about the book is that it wasn’t what I expected. From all the hype and rave reviews I’d read of Eleanor and Park, I thought the book was a light and quirky love story — nope. Eleanor and Park have completely different families and lives, but their meeting on a bus (definitely not a stereotypical love-at-first-sight meeting) throws them into each other’s path.
Eleanor and Park’s alternating perspectives give the book a sense of balance. Park might be an outcast for being Korean, but that’s not the end of the story. While Park has a loving (though imperfect) family and a upper-middle class upbringing, Eleanor lives in poverty with her struggling family and abusive stepfather. The stark contrast between Eleanor’s life and Park’s is a strong reminder that oppression and privilege come in many different forms.
Sometimes, though, Eleanor’s view of Park and his cultural identity felt a bit irksome at times, and I had to remind myself that characters are allowed to grow. I read through the book, waiting for Eleanor to grow out of her problematic assumptions and point of view — and I’m not sure she ever did. The portrayal of Park’s family felt a bit off, as well. There were times when I began to question whether it was Eleanor herself who was ignorant and borderline racist, or the book itself that was problematic. (Edit: In retrospect, yeah, it was pretty problematic. No denyin’.)
To be honest, the sudden jump from tentative friendship to full-on romance was almost jarring. I felt that the emotional intensity of Eleanor and Park’s relationship inexplicable and a bit too much. (Then again, I find most romantic expressions trite, so I might just be a cranky cynic.) But, when I read the book in the context of Park’s comment about Romeo and Juliet, I found myself almost believing in Eleanor and Park’s grand and star-crossed love.
Recommendation: Just skip it.
Rainbow Rowell’s post Why is Park Korean?
Clear Eyes Full Shelves: Review: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
A relevant take on racism: Angry Girl Review: Eleanor and Park
Ellen Oh: What’s your opinion on Eleanor & Park?
In which I try to express the importance of asking questions (and not being afraid to call books out on being problematic): Is Eleanor and Park racist? And Other Questions to Ask