Review: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell

(There are some mild spoilers in here. Just chill - I said mild)


I was so disappointed with Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. Like, crushingly disappointed. It was the same kind of disppointment I feel when I make soft boiled eggs and I leave them in the pan moments too long so that when I crack them open I discover the yolk has set (I take breakfast very seriously)


I was expecting the same level of adorably, squishy, heart-felt loveliness to be found in Fangirl but instead Eleanor and Park fell flat for me with it's drawn out, awkward romance, squirmy instalove and eye-rollingly embarrassing stereotypes.


Eleanor and Park's relationship felt to me like two corks in a bathtub - two separate, stiff, dry objects bumping into each other occasionally when they are tossed together by nothing more than the waves of their environment. I felt no connection to them, no warmth for their growing love for each other. I felt like they were thrown together by mere circumstance. They spot each other across the aisle of the crowded school bus, the stench of vicious teens out for the blood of the New Girl, Eleanor hot in the air. Park catches sight of her head of flaming red hair, her pirate outfit, her strangeness. Does he ask himself "Who is this intriguing, bold, chaotic girl?" Does he vow to learn more about her, for her oddity makes her fascinating? Does he attempt to catch her eye, for he must know her, he must discover her secrets, hear her story? No:


""Sit down," he said. It came out angrily. The girl turned to him, like she couldn't tell wether he was another jerk or what. "Jesus-fuck," Park said softly, nodding to the space next to him, "just sit down,""


Delightful. However, instead of telling him to, as we say here in Scotland get tae fuck Eleanor and he fall deeply and irrevocably in love in the time it takes me to blink. I genuinely thought I had missed something. One moment Park is ashamed to be seen just sitting near Eleanor, the next moment he's sharing comic books with her and drop kicking some dude outside the high school because he disrespected her. I hate instalove with a violent passion. It's lazy, it's nonsensical and it's basically missing a trick. The way people fall in love and get to know one another makes for a great story. Why do authors insist on sweeping over relationship origin stories, scrawling it on the page in thick felt tip, where it requires to be written delicately with a feathered quill. People are fascinating, complicated and intricate. But when instalove is rammed into a plot line all this depth of character and complexity is entirely obliterated. People rarely do things just becuz (unless they are following the ancient teachings of YOLO) so why authors attempt to write characters that behave this way and then expect us to believe in them is really beyond me.


Eleanor's character particularly I thought was just lame. She was so cardboard cutout and yet at the same time insistent that we find her incredible and unique and different. It takes more that a man's tie knotted around the wrist and some scraps of fabric pinned to the jeans to make a person interesting. Eleanor lacked any kind of depth. I had a strong feeling that she was simply going through the motions, wheeled from one setting to the next with a blank, puzzled expression on her face. Yeah - even she didn't know what the hell was going on. Maybe it was the dual POV. Maybe it was the fact the book was only 325 pages long. But there was something huge missing from Eleanor's character - some spark, some life. I never really felt her panic and her fear and her shame at the hands of her bullies. I never felt her love for Park as an overwhelming gush of emotion. I never felt her sorrow, her terror and her discomfort in her hideous home situation. You see - I know what I should have felt, but it was just missing. I couldn't even picture her face or hear her voice, which is alarming in someone with such an over active imagination as I have been gifted with.


"“Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn't supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.”


So we can conclude from this that Eleanor is not art. She makes me feel nothing. Which is very depressing considering her plight. It makes me appear a stone hearted monster. But then, not only was Eleanor's character completely under-developed - I couldn't really get to know anyone else properly either. I felt like Ms Rowell never really delved deep enough into the abusive home situation Eleanor and her siblings were forced to live in. The kids were all the same. Sure there was the quiet one, the loud one, the bed wetting one. But get them all in the same room and their faces and voices all blur into the same ignored and love-starved child. Eleanor's mother was never explored or given any kind of priority either. She was just a wisp of smoke, drifting along the aisles of Food 4 Less or shivering at the kitchen sink. She and Eleanor had absolutely no relationship. There was no connection there at all. Mother-daughter relationships are so important when you're a teenager. Wether you're stormy and angry, or loving and tight knit, your mother is your role model as a woman. Even if she's absent or distant this still creates a reaction and shapes the future. So to have just a big blank void, a dark abyss of nothingness was simply bizarre and made every interaction Eleanor had with her disjointed family feel stilted and forced. I just didn't get it. Perhaps this is why the "shocker" at the end didn't rock me. I didn't believe in any of it. Even Eleanor's actual reaction to the discovery at the very conclusion, of her stepfather's intentions and pervy feelings towards her was epically bland.


Park, I reckon, did all the feeling for the two of them. He was a giant, towering column of shimmering slush. Every thought in his head, every word to spill from his mouth was mushy cheese.


""Nothing before you counts," he said. "And I can't even imagine an after."


Park, buddy, quit being so goddam intense and get a fucking grip!! See, Park is the reason why I have a sneaking suspicion that this book simply isn't for me. I can see why some people would swoon over it, but I think I have an allergic reaction to anything even remotely romantic or sweet or sappy. It just makes me roll my eyes so hard I think I'm gonna lose them inside my head. Park was bland in that he was nothing more than his love for Eleanor. Sure he had interests. He had his martial arts, and his alternative music and his comic books and shit, but he didn't seem all that interested. It was just all Eleanor-this and Eleanor-that. He didn't feel like a real person, particularly when he started all that obsessive crap about being together forever. He needed a good slap upside the head by that point. I liked his mother. She was sweet and quirky. But his dad was just as boring as he was.


I guess after reading Fangirl I was expecting more. Fangirl was romantic and sweet and okay, sometimes sappy but it was so much more than that. The characters were well rounded and fleshed out with proper passions and opinions and feelings. Eleanor and Park was nothing more than that - Eleanor and Park. Eleanor and Park looking alarmed. Eleanor and Park kissing on the steps. Eleanor and Park in the car. Eleanor and Park feeling awkward. Like I said, maybe this one just wasn't for me. And I mean, it wasn't all bad. I gave it three stars partly because I didn't want to have my throat ripped out by the hoards of devoted fans this book seems to have but also because I feel like there's something important about this book - about not judging people based on appearance and about not being afraid to allow other people, who care into your world. I feel these are nice sentiments to be conveyed to the teenaged audience that this book was intended for. And perhaps because I'm really not the intended audience was why this book felt flat for me. I can see how this would appeal to idealistic teenagers, but me being my cynical mid-twenties self? I can't help but think it's wrong to live for someone else, it's wrong to hide away your problems, it's wrong to devote yourself entirely to another at only 16 years old and it's wrong to allow yourself to be entirely consumed by love. Wow. I am a miserable bitch.


But honestly - there's nothing else in there but lurve. Even the supporting characters are nothing. Every single one of them is a stereotype and seems to vanish from existence outside of school. There's the jock, the bitchy girl and the sassy black friends. But that's all they are - jock, bitch, sass. I think Park mentions once about his friend visiting his home after school, but he never actually materialises. And then there's the whole Park-dated-the-bitch-girl-back-when-they-were-12-years-old debacle which gets a bit of a moody rise out of Eleanor, for some reason (if she's expects every guy she ever dates to be a virgin then she's in for a surprise) But even then the bitch-girl is only used to create some conflict between Eleanor and Park and remains pretty faceless. It was just all so 2D, so platform-game. I found it difficult to muster up any more than a "meh" in reaction to most of the shenanigans. The only parts I had any real emotion towards was this kinda thing:


"Eleanor's hair caught fire at dawn. Her eyes were dark and shining, and his arms were sure of her.
The first time he touched her hand, he'd known.


"and his eyes were so green they could turn carbon dioxide into oxygen"


And d'ya want to know that emotion I experienced? Vomit. That emotion was vomit. Eleanor's hair did not catch fire. Parks eyes could not turn carbon dioxide into oxygen. If he was capable of that feat he'd be a very rich man indeed. I'm not against some imaginative visuals, not at all. But this is just cheese. Cheese and flowers mixed together to form a sickening paste. I'm being hard, but maybe from this you can appreciate my levels of disappointment (I know not everyone will get the comparison I made at the start of this review to my less-than-perfect breakfast eggs. That's not everyone's priority) I was excited to read Eleanor and Park and I feel let down and everyone knows the only cure for being let down like this is ranting. I reminded myself why I usually stay far away from contemporary writing. For some reason it almost always seems to spiral downward into overly sentimental drivel tinged with tragedy. I'm heading back over to my dystopian/fantasy/post-apocalyptic corner where I belong.


See y'all after!!