Published by: St. Martin's Press on April 12, 2012
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
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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.
Did I read the same book that everyone else read? I did not love Eleanor & Park. I didn’t even particularly like it.
I thought it started out pretty good and I thought the main characters (Park in particular) were kind of cute. But then it just went down, down, down.
First, the romance. Some might find it cute and sweet, but that’s kind of all it was. It didn’t feel like real, true, passionate love. It was the kind of romance that you might say “Aww” too for a minute, but it wasn’t that heart-wrenching, passionate romance that I was expecting. It was young and naïve. Like in high school romances when people think what they have is ever lasting love, but then they grow up, look back, and realize it was just a cute fling. That’s what I thought Eleanor & Park was, and as a result, I thought the book was shallow.
Eleanor & Park barely scratched the surface with love and the romance. Eleanor and Park meet, sit next to each other on the bus, exchange glances, read comics together, barely actually speak to each other, then, on page 109 and 111 respectively:
“I don’t like you,” he said. “I need you.”
“I…”—her voice nearly disappeared—”I think I live for you.”
“I don’t think I even breathe when we’re not together.”
It felt so insta-love-y. Sure they shared a few cute moments, where Eleanor would get on the bus, sit next to Park, not even speak to him, but read his comic book over his shoulder… but they went from that to, “I can’t live without you” type declarations? It just felt way too fast. And even after that point, I never felt any passion in their relationship. If anything, Park just seemed intrigued by Eleanor, rather than passionately in love with her.
As the book went on and they just kept sharing loads and loads of silent moments (listening to music together, reading comics together), I got bored. I felt like nothing was happening; the plot wasn’t progressing. It was just “Eleanor and Park spend time together… then more time together… then more time…” But there was no real plot there.
And the bits of plot that the author did try to tie in didn’t go anywhere. Eleanor has a bad family situation. Her father doesn’t want her and she live with her mother, her stepfather, and her siblings. Her stepfather is an abusive drunk and her mother refuses to leave him. But despite this site plot, nothing ever happens to it. There’s not even a big climax at the end… there’s a tiny one, but even then, the problem never actually gets solved. Eleanor just runs away from it.
So overall, I just found Eleanor & Park to be a shallow read. I literally think that word describes this book perfectly. It skims the surface of first love. It skims the surface of family problems. It skims the surface of living in an under-privileged home. Although it does really focus on race, to the point where you’d think Eleanor only likes Park because he has ‘cute Korean eyes/skin’. Respiring Thoughts does a great job of highlighting the race problems in this book.
Also, I thought Eleanor was a bit of a bitch at times. She got mad at Park for no reason, she was so annoyingly self-critical, she went on and on about how she was fat, and at the end View Spoiler » . I was honestly just sick of all her self deprecation and lack of confidence. And even at the end, I don’t feel like she ever gained confidence, so there was no character growth there.
One more thing I’ll note is the writing style. I didn’t love it. Another reviewer put it wonderfully:
But what really made me want to heave this book across the room was the ping-pong writing style. Rowell wrote very short sections, bouncing back and forth and back and forth between Eleanor and Park’s point of view.
Although I didn’t mind it at first, this style of writing really started to annoy me after a while. We’d get chapters that were basically like:
Eleanor loved the way Park held her hand. It was so nice.
Park felt like he was touching something real and genuine. Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly.
Eleanor was in heaven. She disintegrated.
Just constant back and forth, back and forth. Obviously I did some major paraphrasing up there, but that’s basically how it was. Some chapters were less than a page long and would just go from Park to Eleanor, then back again, in super quick succession. It wasn’t for me.
I wanted to love this book because everyone else does and because I did love Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments, but this time it looks like I’m a black sheep. I don’t mind a cute, fluffy book now and then, but I have to be in the mood for them. With everyone’s extreme love for Eleanor & Park, I expected a book with a lot of substance.. but turns out, it is way more of the cute, fluffy type (which takes me back to my “it’s shallow” point). So maybe part of the reason for my low rating is that I went in with totally different expectations. This book is cute and shallow—it’s not intense, drastically emotional, or heart-wrenching.