Book Review – Eleanor and Park

So despite the slightly underwhelming experience that was Fangirl, I’ve decided to try another Rainbow Rowell novels, Eleanor and Park. It came highly recommended by friends, as well as Goodreads folks, and Fangirl was enjoyable enough, so I gave E&P a chance.

Overall it was … okay. Better than Fangirl, in terms of plot and character. But I was still left wanting. Not for more of the story, but for something to seriously blow me away. Like, “reach into your chest and crush your heart to smithereens because THE FEELS THE FEELS” blow me away.

Or maybe I’m just dead inside.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

The Story

Basically, Korean-American kid meets weird chubby girl who dresses differently. Eleanor ends up sitting next to Park on the school bus, and they start sharing his comic books and discussing music and it’s all very nice and dandy, except that Eleanor is being bullied by the kids in school and her stepfather is an explosive, sadistic ass. Plus, she keeps find sick, perverted messages scrawled in her textbooks.

Eleanor tries to keep Park a secret from her family (especially her stepfather, who will destroy anything good in her life), and her family a secret from Park (because she’s ashamed of them). But the story eventually reaches breaking point, and all the secrets come tumbling out as Eleanor’s carefully curated life comes tumbling down.

The Pacing

Compared to Fangirl, there is way more conflict and tension in E&P. I like how the subplot of the creepy anonymous notes (“suck my dick” – very classy, step-daddy) contributes to the main narrative arc at the end and actually creates a very cool twist to the story.

Plus, the tension builds steadily towards the climax at the end so it’s quite impossible to put down the damn book (looked up to find a couple of hours just gone).

The Characters

I’m still not sure how I feel about Eleanor. Park, I get. Park, I empathise with (he feels like he’s always falling short of his dad’s expectations and sometimes just want to retreat into his own world). Park, I might actually be in love with.

(If I imagine Donghae as Park, Park is practically swoon-worthy. I mean, they’re practically of the same build, they’re gorgeous – at least according to Eleanor, but she might be biased about Park – and they’re sweet and kind but sometimes a little brash.

*Swoon*

I swear, that’s what I did. Imagine Donghae as Park, I mean. He fits the character to a T! Even when Park went through the eyeliner phase. I mean,

Come on.)

Anyway, Park I love.

Eleanor, though. Sometimes, I got a little impatient with her. She either wants to jump Park’s bones, or she shuts him out. She is either super frail and in need of saving, or super snarky and mean. I get that the hostility is a defence mechanism, but it doesn’t seem very consistent.

Sometimes, she’s completely self-flagellating:

Sometimes completely smitten (and horny):

And sometimes just plain weird.

That’s a fine stride you’re making for feminism, love.

The Romance

As with Fangirl, Rowell did not hold back her horny rabbits characters. They are all over each other, and can’t stop gushing over how beautiful each other are and how they just want to eat each other up.

I thought their romance progressed a little too fast, to be honest. Like Steph from Cuddlebuggery said,

Park went from “God! Just sit the fuck down, Eleanor!” to “God, she has incredibly soft hands.” 

Eleanor went from “That stupid Asian kid” to “He’s so pretty. I love his hair! I want to eat his face!”

The next thing I know, Park is telling Eleanor that he’s in love with her, how he can’t imagine being without her, that she’s IT for him. Then Eleanor is telling him she doesn’t breathe when she’s away from him.  

The breakneck-speed romance is a bump in the road, but if you manage to get over it, the rest of the story is all right.

Except, REALLY? Park is swearing undying love for a girl he barely knows and Eleanor can’t live without a boy with whom she barely shares anything about herself?

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The Setting

The story is set in 1986, Omaha. But Park, or Eleanor’s African-American friends Beebi and DeNice, seem to coast through the book without much trouble. Instead, Eleanor is the one getting bullied.

I’m not saying pile on the hate, but everything else about the time and place seems to fall by the wayside when it comes to E&P’s epic love. Why set it in 1986, Omaha then? It could have taken place in 2014, and frankly it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.

I do like Park’s mother, though. How her backstory affected the way she perceived Eleanor and how she finally came around was something I wish Rowell teased out more. (It reminds me of Mrs Kim in Gilmore Girls and how she came to accept Lane’s boyfriend Zac, except I think the show did a better job at highlighting the character arc). I think it’d be more interesting to see more of Park’s interactions and domestic tension with his family members instead of him and Eleanor taking about comic books.

The Ending

This was me, basically

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Please tell me the story doesn’t end here. Seriously. There are so many loose ends untied. And while I get that not everything has to be tied up neatly – nor does everyone have to get their happy ending – there are still too many questions and uncertainties that the ending doesn’t quite address.

*Spoiler* Is Eleanor going to stay with her relatives until she’s legal? Has she been in touch with her mom and siblings? She just took off like that suddenly and built a new life so easily, cutting off from everyone, including Park.

One whole year, no word from Eleanor, while Park writes long, rambling lovesick letter after letter. And finally, when she does decide to write to Park, the message is only three words long on a postcard?

If I were Park, I’d be like

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But Park’s a sweetheart and a hopeful, hapless git. Like Noah from The Notebook. Which means he probably doesn’t exist outside of the book.

The Rating

Still, E&P had its moments. There were some parts that quite poignant:

And some dramatic and pretty:

Although I kinda paused at this bit:

 

Oh, I can come up with a lot of hot Asian guys, but I suppose since this is 1986 Omaha, the Asian boy fetish hasn’t caught on. Yet.

In all, I’d rate this book 3.5 out of 5 (compared to Fangirl’s 3). Not spectacular, But Rowell’s voice is natural and the writing never too heavy-handed (except when it comes to describing love interests). Some parts she sort of skated across (I’m sure there are a lot more social dynamics left to explore, considering the setting) to make way for the romance. And there were still a lot of questions left unanswered towards the end. But at least this one has more conflict and tension than Fangirl.

Have you read Eleanor and Park? What do you think of it? Is there something about Rowell’s books that I’m not quite getting??

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