I had a really weird experience with this book.
I read it through once and thought it was okay, and didn’t understand the hype. I wrote a draft for this review, and then, confused, I forced myself to read the book again.
I kept telling myself, “Okay, on the next page I’m going to find what I was complaining about.”
Wrong, past me. Oh so very wrong indeed.
Eleanor. New girl. Red head. Fat. Awkwardly dressed. Terrible living situation. Non-conformist to the max.
Park. Half-Korean. Punk-rocker. Comic book geek. Possibly gay. And
needs to learn how to can drive an effing stick shift.
When Park (reluctantly) offers a seat to Eleanor on the bus to school, he figures it will just be another annoyance to add to his daily list. When Eleanor starts reading Park’s comics on the bus, she doesn’t expect him to start lending them to her.
When they first met, no one expected them to fall in love.
But they did anyway.
(If you didn’t get the intro…I adore this book.)
There are so many things that are right in Eleanor & Park. After my second reading, I found tons to love, though there are some cons that stuck around from the first time around:
Character building. Park and Eleanor are well rounded characters, with full backgrounds and problems. They are (a)typical misfits (since “typical misfits” sounds oxymoronic). Park doesn’t fit in. He’s half Asian, he likes things no one else cares/knows about, he’s kind of feminine. Eleanor doesn’t fit in either. She’s the new girl, she looks different, her family life sucks and she doesn’t want to fit in.
In fact, all of the characters are really well established. Park’s parents, Eleanor’s parents, their siblings, friends and classmates—they are all given unique personalities and something to remember them by.
The down side is that the interactions are limited. Most of the stuff that matters is there: Eleanor/Park, Park/his parents, Eleanor/her siblings, etc. What bugs me is that the little things are lacking. We barely know anything about Cal even though he’s Park’s best friend, likewise with DeNice and Beebi and Eleanor. Most of what they do is confirm that Yes, Eleanor and Park are a thing. And if that’s all they’re there for, I don’t see the point. Speaking of which…
The romance. I like it—it’s a genuine relationship. I like how Eleanor and Park work slowly up to a relationship. I like that they fight and they resolve their problems. I like that they care so much about each other. I even like that Park has this inexplicable need to make her happy.
It’s just, sometimes it’s not realistic, it’s too…gushy. And often strange. Eleanor says how she wants to eat Park’s face, and I find myself questioning whether or not that’s a good thing. Often, reading all the emotion behind a single touch between these two makes me want to close the covers of the book and give them privacy. And possibly suggest they get a room.
The 80s. I was born a decade after this book took place so I know little to nothing about the 80s. This is probably true for a good percentage of the readers of Eleanor & Park. So what I know about the 80s is minimal and restricted to obvious social tension, pop culture and mixed tapes.
So when I recognized little things like that, I appreciated that. I’ve seen some reviews that make it seem like the 80s is poorly depicted in this book, but based on Rowell’s target audience, I think it was enough.
The misfit-iness. Part of what makes this book so unique is the uniqueness of these characters, thrown in a common situation. It made both leads insecure around each other, and at times even hostile. Eleanor calls Park a stupid Asian kid, and Park criticizes Eleanor’s appearance.
What’s interesting is that the misfits are harder on each other and themselves than the rest of the world is (with a few minor exceptions). I think that’s a great commentary on non-conformity, and how self-aware and self-conscious people are of their differences.
The end. The ending, I think, was suitable. It made sense. I like how these two don’t fall out of love, they fall victim to circumstance. They unravel. I also like that it is open-ended. It was rushed and sudden–which is perfect pacing given the circumstances.
Though seriously Eleanor, it’s kind of your fault.
The cons? I felt very mixed about the ending, rather than satisfied. I feel that if Rowell had written just a little more…and I don’t mean the mysterious words from 10,000 lakes. I mean the minor characters and what happened to Eleanor’s family (because even Eleanor doesn’t mention it). I want to get to know Beebi, DeNice, Josh and Cal better. I want to know more about Park’s parents, even about Steve and Tina.
And there’s also this strange feeling that Eleanor and Park are fairly static. I know that they’ve changed physically. And I know, somewhere, both of them have accepted and celebrate their misfit-ness. But you really have to squint to see it.
This is a book that makes you think. And think hard. And I didn’t expect that.
This isn’t simply a love story that brings out the best of both people involved, which is why I was kind of disappointed after reading it the first time. It’s about life (that bastard) and how Romeo and Juliet was probably a very honest love story (despite my and Eleanor’s mutual hate for it). It’s about misfits and music, and about driving a stick shift.
Recommendation: Buy. If you like John Green’s books (particularly TFIOS), you will definitely like this book. If you like chick lit, go for this book. If you can tolerate large amounts of SQUEE-OMG-THAT-WAS-SO-CUTE-bordering-on-uncomfortably-awkward, then this book is for you. If you’ve ever been in love, this book is for you. If you’ve seen the 80s, read this book. If you want to read a book that is surprisingly real, read this book. If you’ve been misfit, read this. And if you just need to read a love story, read this book.