Title: Eleanor & Park
Writer: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher/Edition: St. Martin’s Press International Edition (2013)
Bought at: Kinokuniya Nge Ann City (SGD 16.91)
Please meet Eleanor: red hair, big bones, reaaally white (a bit pale), awkward, weird clothes, screaming “poor” all over, and in short, white trash.
Now please meet Park: Asian-American, handsome, cool but reserved, self conscious, always thought that he couldn’t live to his father’s expectation.
In an unexpected circumstances, Eleanor (a new girl at school) has to sit with Park (who always sits alone) in school bus every day. Awkward and shy at first (especially because Park feels afraid that people will get him for being friends with the misfit Eleanor), slowly they become closer, through music and comic books.
But before them, laid the huge problems: Eleanor’s family, her mean step dad, her bunch of brothers and sisters, her helpless mom who’d been abused all the time by the step dad. Meanwhile, Eleanor tried so hard to fit into Park’s family, an ideal household with cool Mom and Dad and a nice brother. And together, they embraced the first love as if it’s a dangerous minefield, filled with tears, challenges, unknown future, and broken hearts. But they took their risks, because hey! There are sweet memories too, the feeling of first kiss and loving a person as if it’s your last chance.
I remember putting Eleanor & Park in one of my Wishful Wednesdays long long time ago, before it’s getting huge and becoming a best seller everywhere. And I’ve just had a chance to buy the paperback when I went to Singapore last month. I love this cover version and was glad to buy this edition.
Actually the story is okay for me. It’s cute and has an 80s vibe that’s quite catchy (although the 80s actually only showed through the walkman and song choices in the entire book).
But again, probably because I’ve read it when I’m in my 30s (like I feel with so many YA books nowadays), the vibe doesn’t quite catch my heart that much. It feels a bit stale for me, like reminiscing my first love with some mismatched circumstances. Anyway. I like the idea of trying to fight for your first love- however impossible it seems. But there are some things that I couldn’t really grasp from the book:
1. The impression of this book that wants to show that Eleanor and Park are both the “outsiders” – the misfits of the high school. But actually, Park is not an outsider. Sure, he’s a minority, being Korean-American in a suburb in Oregon in the 80s was not easy. But he’s handsome, can do martial art, and even the popular girls fell in love with him.
2. Park’s parents: I just don’t understand why they let Park go at the end of the book (no real spoiler here) instead of going to the police and reporting what happened in Eleanor’s house. Maybe because it’s a small town or because it’s the 80s? But I just couldn’t grasp the decision they made- as a parent, I’ll do it differently.
3. The ending: I actually love the ending- it created a sense of longing for me. But I hope there won’t be sequels. Please, it will ruin everything.
Overall, I think Eleanor & Park is a sweet love story of two kids from a very different background. It contained two main themes: first love, and complication of family problems. But the thing I don’t really feel from this book is the smooth transition between the two main themes.
Rowell seemed to write about two different things: sweet high school love story (complete with the thrilling of first kiss or first time exploring each other’s bodies), and bitter family story (especially in Eleanor’s house, where abuse and bullying happened all the time- without any real explanation of why those things happened).
It feels too extreme for me- jumping from teenage lovey dovey scenes to serious, dark scenes of sexual harassment and other related issues. I wish Rowell could present it in different way, or choose only one theme to make it not as pretentious and/or too innocent as it is.
But relax, I don’t give up on Rainbow Rowell though- I guess I’ll try one of her adult books after this 🙂