Sunday, August 25, 2013

Review: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell


Title: Eleanor and Park 

Author: Rainbow Rowell

Rating: 2.5 Stars

I sincerely hope no diabetic patients read this novel. Seriously. Eleanor and Park is almost a sickly-sweet kind of romance. I could feel myself cringing at the utter delight of it all: the gentle Asian boy, the big red-headed girl who didn’t fit in, the slow hand-holding, the chaste kisses, the Star Wars compliments, the cradle-the-phone-in-the-night discussions, the endless question-and-answer sessions, and most of all, the improbable romance of a poor girl who doesn’t even have a toothbrush and the rich boy who has a room full of model airplanes and cassette tapes. Nevertheless, despite the clichés in this novel and the almost dream-like quality of the story itself, I found myself hard pressed to dislike this story. Eleanor and Park is most definitely a love story I’m going to forget within a few hours, but somehow Rainbow Rowell is an author I’m not.

If you haven’t already figured it out, this is the type of novel that depicts what an almost perfect romance is like. Almost perfect because despite the cheesiness of the dialogue and the cloying sweet quality of the scenes in this, Eleanor and Park are both flawed and realistic characters; to some extent. I found Rowell’s depiction of Eleanor, in particular, to be gratifying. Not only is she “Big Red,” the girl who stands out from the crowd because of her bright hair and big-boned body, but she’s also the girl who isn’t afraid to speak her mind, who’s stunningly intelligent, and whose sarcasm and wit manages to utterly charm Park. Furthermore, her family situation – abusive stepdad, single mom with five children – makes her all the more complicated. Some of my favorite scenes took place when Eleanor was upset, too shaken to speak about her family or simply too embarrassed to discuss her situation and background. Just the fact that she, with her mood swings and clipped tones and limited discussion about her own life, caused a few prickly thorns to spring up in her relationship with Park was more than enough to add an extra layer to their nerdmance.

On the other hand, Park is a little too opposite Eleanor for my liking. First and foremost, he is really sweet, slowly developing his relationship with Eleanor from silence to comics to music and inviting her over to his house practically every day. Park struggles, for awhile, to accept Eleanor - all of her - especially because he so wants his parents’ approval of his first real girlfriend and somehow isn’t brave enough to fight for her completely. Thus, his progression as an individual was well-written, as was his complicated relationship with his father. I feel like father-son relationships are too easily dismissed in favor of mother-daughter relationships, but I do think that the former is just as important as the latter. Needless to say, I was impressed by the complicated, but affectionate, stance Rowell took in portraying their bond.

Nevertheless, Park is a little too perfect for my liking. Although he is an Asian – and feels insecure about that – there is no denying that females are clamoring for his attention. Park walks into a music store and the girl behind the counter is totally into him. His ex-girlfriend from when he was twelve is still, somehow, after his affections. And yet he feels like girls don’t like Asian boys. I do think his insecurities are valid, but I never was able to connect with him on the same level as I was with Eleanor. Moreover, his family is just too perfect. His father comes home from work and makes out with his mother, irrespective of the fact that they have two sons, have been married for years, and will likely have time to do all that – and more – behind closed doors. Eleanor, on the other hand, has a father who abandoned her, a stepdad who abuses her mother, four other younger siblings, and can’t even afford a toothbrush. If you had to pick two lives to place on opposite ends of a spectrum, these are it. And I guess Rowell was trying – as most authors of romance are – that love can bloom among even the unlikeliest of couples, but it seemed all too forced and purposeful for me to appreciate.

Yet, my main issue with this novel was with Park’s mother. We have a Korean bride who marries an American solider and comes home to live with him right next door to his Irish parents. But, despite this, there is not a drop of Korean culture in Park’s life. No Korean food, no Korean language, not even a mention of his mother’s family back in Korea until much later in the novel. I’m all for diversity in YA, but simply introducing an Asian character for the sake of having an Asian character, especially without the messy dilemma that dual-culture brings into the picture, grates on me. I’m an Asian myself and I live in a community where 75% of my neighbors are Asian. Indian, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Japanese, Sri Lankan, Pakistani…you name it. We’re here. And I get that Eleanor and Park takes place in a different time period, but this Asian audience that Rowell is trying to reach? We exist. Also? We’d like to be represented in YA. Accurately. For one, the majority of Asians I know – myself included – have very close ties to their family members overseas. Maybe there isn’t international phone calling by this time in history – I don’t know – but wouldn’t Park’s mom try to ensure that her children knew about her background? Doesn’t she know any traditional Korean dishes? I find it so difficult to believe that she simply left behind everything, including her own Korean culture and beliefs, to assimilate to American life. With the exception of her accent, you’d never even know she wasn’t born and bred in America. And for an Asian character, that just isn’t right.


For all of that, though, there’s something about Eleanor and Park that makes it hard to put down. Impossible, really. I enjoyed reading about Eleanor and Park’s relationship, no matter how clichéd it was. I loved seeing Eleanor battle her demons, inner and outer, and seeing Park help her. Is their romance too good to be true? Yes. Are their declarations of love, of missing each other over weekends, etc. just a little too my-eyes-are-tired-of-rolling? Yes. I won’t deny that this book has its flaws – plenty of them – but every once-in-awhile, I found myself forgetting about them and just enjoying this fairy-tale romance. And, either way, I will definitely be getting my hands on Attachments soon because, no matter what I’ve said, Rainbow Rowell can write.

22 comments:

  1. I had this book as next on my to-read list but certain circumstances have pushed it back (again). Anyhow I'm still not sure about reading this, it sounds too cheesy for me. I do like sweet love stories but I need more and this one has to have more I'm not sure about Park. It's usually girls I have that problems with (unaware of their beauty) I'm not sure how will that work for boys. Anyhow great review Keertana :)

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  2. Oh, sorry this didn't work out for you, Keertana! It sounds like a really cute romance. It seems like I've seen this get some rave reviews on other blogs, but maybe my memory just sucks, lol! Great honest review. :)

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  3. I have been meaning to read this for such a long time, and I really want to know what I think of it.

    Great, detailed review, K. I don't find the mother issue that odd because if the US was anything like Aus in the 80s, I am sure so many migrants would have wanted to blend in and try to avoid being singled out by racist locals. But, I'll wait and see what I think when I read it!

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  4. Sorry this didn't end up being the book for you Keertana, but I'm glad you're a fan of Rainbow overall. I'm likely going to enjoy of this one as romances can usually never be too sweet for me, but I can see how that could be off putting at times for sure. I'll be interested to see what you think of Attachments!

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  5. I'm sorry you didn't like this more! I liked it overall but I had some problems with how it portrayed Asians as well. Rainbow Rowell is one of my favorite authors though and Attachments is my favorite work of hers so I hope you'll enjoy it. :)

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  6. Ouch! Sorry it wasn't very impressive for you but thanks for the honest review.

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  7. Yay for finally picking this one up! But uh oh, it looks like a lot of things went wrong for you in this book. I totally agree with you on Rowell's writing-- it's impossible to put down. And there's just something about the romance that is so addicting to read about. And yes, the romance is also a little too good to be true, but I still loved it. I have to admit though, the flawed moments you mentioned are not ones that I particularly noticed/bothered me. I did'nt notice the lack in Korean culture (I am Chinese, no worries), but I can see how that would bother you since it's not being represented correctly. Interesting thoughts, I'm glad you shared them with us! Wonderful review, Keertana! Better luck next time with Rowell's books.

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  8. I think I would feel the same as you did about the culture. Too bad, I think it is great when characters bring culture into the mix in a YA. Don't think this one is for me either.

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  9. Oh no! :( I was getting ready to pick this one up from my library today - except, I couldn't find it on the shelf! lol (According to the system, the book was in the library). But I was in a hurry to leave, so I didn't ask for help. Maybe that was a sign telling me not to pick it up? :P

    I think the flaws you pointed out might be a deal-breaker for me too. But I guess it all depends on how swept away I get by the writing. I still want to give it a shot though - just not sure how soon. Thanks for your honest thoughts, Keertana. Now, I know what to expect. :)

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  10. Oh no :( I've seen a lot of good reviews for this one, but I think I'm rather like you, Keertana. I like romance, but I like plausible/realistic romance. If it's saccharine sweet, it just doesn't work for me. Plus, if the plot and themes are TOO purposeful, I just can't do it. Thanks for the honest review :)

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    1. I'm glad this helped, Melissa! I do think the romance in this is plausible, but it did ring too good to be true, frankly. And also, since you recently read The Book of Broken Hearts and appreciated the immigrant family portrayal in that, I have a feeling that Park's mother may have grated on you in this. If you do pick this up, though, I'll be interested to see what you think!(:

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  11. Strangely enough, I've been seeing a lot of negative reviews and ratings for this book recently, which is a huge contrast to the endless 4 and 5 star reviews that I came across earlier on. I totally appreciate why the depiction of Asian characters might have bothered you here. I wonder if I'd feel the same way. Still, I'm glad you're interested in checking out Rowell's other books. Lovely review, Keertana!

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  12. I'm sorry this story didn't work out for you so well, Keertana! It has seemed as though everyone and their mother has adored this book, but, honestly, I think your points here make a lot of sense. I've seen quite a few of them mentioned before (especially complaints about the inauthenticity of Park's heritage), and they've caused me to not want to read this book, at least not at the moment. I do think it's true that when authors write incorrectly about something we know very well, especially something as personal as heritage, it's easy to be taken aback.
    That is reassuring, however, that you're not willing to give up on Rowell's work entirely. I think I've come to the conclusion that I want to read Fangirl, and then see where to go from there. I hope that Attachments or Fangirl does end up working out better for you!

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  13. I love sugary candy and I love this book. What would you have said if it had a perfectly sweet ending? Anyway, I can see your points about Park's heritage. They are definitely valid, though I will admit nothing that I paid that much attention to while reading. I love that you always own your opinion and articulate it beautifully!

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  14. I meant to comment on your review for this book ages ago Keertana!I'm so sorry for being so late- I really enjoyed it when I read it on goodreads. I personally don't know if I would pick this book, but I feel like if I did, I wouldn't get too far in it. Like you I'm all for Diversity in YA (you know that since we've talked about it a lot), but I'm also not for it just for the sake of it. I find it surprising that nothing about Korean culture is depicted in the book, especially since Park is mixed. From your review I find it surprising that his dad doesn't talk about Korean culture either. I mean if he was stationed there it has to mean that he was absorbed in the culture just as much as his mother.

    It is disappointing that the portrayal of Asians is problematic since this book seems to be loved by a lot. Do you think you'll pick up Rowell's other books?

    Cheers,
    Savindi

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  15. Sorry this didn't work out for you Keertana. Although it sounds like a cute romance, I think there are just too many cliches in here for me to fully enjoy it. And the random but not random Asian character really got to you, and I totally understand why. It could have been a great opportunity to really make a culture stand out but too bad that didn't happen here. But I am glad you enjoyed the author's writing, and will look out for future books! Thanks for the honest review! :D

    ~ Maida
    Literary Love Affair 

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  16. I read Eleanor & Park a few months ago, but I actually never reviewed it. I read Attachments first and LOVED it so much. I don't know if E&P was too hyped for me or if it just couldn't live up to my love for Attachments, but I really wasn't a huge fan of it. I completely agree that, regardless, Rowell can write really well. But, like you, there were aspects of this one that just didn't sit right with me. I couldn't really articulate it at the time, which is why I never reviewed it. But I agree with so many of the things you've said here! I'm happy I wasn't the only one who didn't love this book, and I appreciate your insightful review.

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  18. So, you'll probably be reading Fangirl at some point? :D I'm really curious about it, I've heard some good things!

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  19. I love Rainbow Rowell and have been waiting for her next book. I hate angst-ridden characters but I'll risk it anyway.

    Marlene Detierro (Boiler Service)

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  20. Love this review, especially your final paragraph. It captures how I was feeling perfectly! I wasn't a huge fan of the actual book overall and definitely think Park was over-the-top sweet. However, Rainbow Rowell is a FANTASTIC writer and I'm looking forward to reading her other books!

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