Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Posted February 23, 2021 by Amber in Reviews / 0 Comments

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Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park

by Rainbow Rowell

Publisher: St. Martin's Press on February 26, 2013
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Target Age Group: Young Adult
Representation: Asian, BIPOC, Black
Content Warnings: Body Shaming, Bullying, Domestic Abuse, Racial Slurs

Rating: ★★½

Check out this book on Goodreads or buy the book at Bookshop.org

Two misfits.
One extraordinary love.

Eleanor... Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough...Eleanor.

Park... He knows she'll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There's a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises...Park.

Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

 

I picked up my copy of this book before I knew about the problematic rep.  Even after the problematic rep was revealed to me, I figured it would be okay, but I probably wouldn’t keep it after reading due to the rep.  …  I was just as surprised as anyone to find that even discounting the racist choices made… I didn’t like this book?  From a pure writing and storytelling standard, Eleanor & Park is deeply overrated.

Some good points first:

  • It’s easy to read
  • I appreciated there were points where the characters connected beyond wanting to eat each other’s faces.
  • It felt representative of a super awkward high school relationship.

Beyond that, there are some definite issues.  The biggest of these was the intense feeling of an author writing outside of her lane.  In Park’s POV, you have her writing as a first generation Korean-American.  I will concede that it’s possible Eleanor’s POV comes a bit more from personal experience (potentially), but it’s all very… uncomfortable.  And not in that “I’m a bad person and need to do better” kind of way.  More like the “why were these choices made” kind of way.

The language used in Eleanor & Park doesn’t help.  This is historical fiction set in the 1980s.  There’s this thing in historical fiction where authors get to made a choice.  Do they go for “as accurate as possible” and use offensive language?  Or do they clean up the dialogue?  I think generally speaking if you aren’t part of the race that was experiencing the derogatory terms, you don’t get to use them.  Rainbow Rowell – you do not get to use them.  There’s all sorts of offensive words used in the dialogue of this book:  racist, sexist, ableist.  Another reader may argue “that’s how people talked in the 80s!”.  Well, good thing it’s not the 80s then.  In a story that’s primarily a romance and doesn’t really address issues (certainly not well) – these were wholly unnecessary.

Outside of Eleanor and Park – really, I guess, outside of Eleanor – the characters were flat as pancakes.  Eleanor has two Black friends and I really felt the Black sidekick stereotypes with both Beebi and DeNice.  Park’s mom was super, super cringe.  Other characters were less downright offensive – but people like Tina and and Cal didn’t stand out at all.  There was actually one point where Cal was talking to Park and I had to refresh my memory as to who he was.

The writing and storytelling were decidedly mediocre.  I feel like I’ve read this story before, only I’ve read better versions of it.  Funnier versions, sadder versions.  I can appreciate the ending but as a rule I was a bit bored.  This was a love story, but it wasn’t a rollercoaster ride of a love story.  Instead of being worried about the relationship, I was mostly wondering how many pages were left.

I was concerned about Eleanor’s home life and the way Park’s father kept emasculating him (but then was still left to look like the good guy in that family?), but I felt these points were glazed a bit, too.  There was too much dialogue, and Rowell’s particularly writing style didn’t give these points too much depth even when there was a lot of potential to be something interesting and heartbreaking there.  On one hand, I guess it was a good thing that she didn’t go too deep, because Rowell was not the person to write these struggles and address them… but I found myself disappointed that they were presented and Very Real and Concerning and were sort of… just… there.

This is my second book by Rainbow Rowell and y’all – I don’t see the hype, I really don’t.  I have a copy of Fangirl still so I’m not completely writing her off yet, but I’m also not convinced of her brilliance.  Eleanor & Park was mediocre.  It did not have enough redeeming qualities to cancel out the bad.

Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★ 1/2
Plot: ★★ 1/2
Characters: ★★ 1/2
Writing: ★★ 1/2
Pacing: ★★★ 1/2
Personal Enjoyment: ★★ 1/2

Two and a Half Stars

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Eleanor & Park Will Be Donated

Eleanor & Park may be an incredibly popular book with optioned movie rights, etc., etc… but it was not for me.  I was bored at best, uncomfortable at worst.  There was nothing that pulled my heartstrings enough to make me want to read this book again.

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Code Orange Problematic Author History

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How do you feel about accuracy of dialogue in historical fiction?  Do you prefer it when the authors are authentic?  Or do you believe it’s right to update the slang (or remove it altogether) when it is offensive?  Let me know in the comments!

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