Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Someone in the Facebook Book Club group posted the below meme yesterday. I decided to play along and got “Quiet guy falls in love with sarcastic girl who eye rolls herself to death.”

John Green meme

Coincidentally, that is Eleanor & Park in a nutshell. I mean, more or less. Not a John Green novel, but YA of the same ilk. Park, a quiet guy, falls in love with Eleanor, a girl who hides behind a tough exterior, trying to protect herself from the mean girls, her horrible stepdad, and her crippling low self-esteem.

I started out liking the book. Eleanor was weird and a sympathetic character. Park was likeable, and as the book went on, one could see that he had struggles of his own.

eleanorBut then they fell in love. And it was angsty, messy, drama-filled teenager love. The author laboriously described one’s feelings for the other (as the book ping-pongs narratives between the two teens.) As a grown-up, I had no patience for the syrupy way they each described the other — sometimes directly to each other, another thing I found entirely unrealistic. Maybe I was a Neanderthal in high school, but I would have never uttered words like that aloud to ANYONE, let alone some guy I liked. I had to skip parts because I just lost patience for the whole thing. Like, come ON already. We get it. They like each other a whole lot.

But, WHY do they like each other? What is their relationship based on, other than mutual love of comic books and new wave music? (The music references are fantastic, as the book is set in 1986.) They seem an unlikely pairing, and seeing as how hard Eleanor bristles at every little thing Park says, it is really strange that he likes her and would put up with it. Let alone have the complete schmoops for her. Even testosterone-fueled teens desperate for sex would probably seek lower-hanging fruit at some point.

And let’s talk about how it took them FOREVER to have their first kiss. The hand holding went on for chapters on end. And then when they got to their first kiss, it too the author FOREVER to write about it. Talk about drawn out. Just friggin’ kiss already. I was their age in 1992, about 6 years later, and we moved a LOT faster than these two gaga lovebirds.

As I grew more and more disenchanted with the over-the-top overtures of teen luv on every page of this book, I tried to put myself in the shoes of a teen reading this. Does it ring true? Does it strike a nerve in the teenage brain? I have no idea.

I didn’t care at all for their romance, needless to say. So, what kept me reading?

Eleanor’s home life. Her stepdad is awful, abusive and downright scary. They are living in the kind of poverty most of us can’t even imagine. I wanted to find out if Eleanor’s stepdad would get arrested, or if her mom would leave him. Even that was just kind of disappointing as far as how it got wrapped up.

There’s a moral here of learning to love yourself, and seeing yourself the way others see you. Park didn’t see Eleanor as an overweight, eccentrically-dressed curly-haired redhead. He thought she was beautiful. And Eleanor didn’t see Park as the skinny, kind of nerdy Asian kid. She thought he was the hottest thing she’d ever laid two eyes on. Maybe some teen out there, or even some adult because who am I to judge, thinks this book is the bee’s knees. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I have a feeling this is going to be a movie at some point, if it isn’t already. If it is, may I just say that Shanon Purser, the actress who played Barb on Stranger Things, and who is in the new Netflix film, Sierra Burgess is a Loser, may have been born to play this role.

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