One of my goals for 2015 is to get back to my roots and read more books. As the great Frederick Douglass said, ‘Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.’ Books are a passion – nay, an obsession of mine and always have been. I grew up in the library and my parents fostered my love of reading and learning. With books I have lived a thousand lives, found myself absorbed in different worlds, and learned immensely more than I could have otherwise. So put up your feet, grab a good paperback and let’s get reading!
‘Eleanor & Park’ by Rainbow Rowell (what a name by the way!) is a novel about a teenage relationship between the title characters. It is August of 1986 in Omaha, NE, and we see the progression of their relationship and their characters over the course of the school year. They are both misfits- Eleanor being the new girl, overweight and with her unruly bright red hair. Park, although he grew up with the popular kids is still very different in choice of music, dress and the fact that he is Korean. Eleanor has a very strained and awful home life. She has returned to live with her mother and step father and four siblings after she was kicked out of the house by her stepfather (who was not yet her stepfather at the time). The stepfather is abusive physically to her mother and mentally to the children. Park has a much more ‘normal’ home life. His father met his mother while serving in the Korean war, and Park feels as though he will never live up to his father’s expectations for him. Each one of the characters we see in the book has real flaws. Rowell creates two characters that, if not relatable, the reader is at least sympathetic for.
This is a YA novel, which is often criticized or looked down upon for what is at the very core of it- the need for recognizing and validating the dramatic ebbs and flows of adolescence. There is no shortage of adolesence angst in ‘Eleanor & Park’, but it went deeper than that. There was a feeling that they understood that young love usually does not last, but they wanted to move beyond what their lack of experience could support. They were finding love in the midst of very real adult conditions – especially in the area of Eleanor’s home life. They were brave and desperate enough to try to make their relationship last. Both Eleanor and Park felt like misfits in all aspects of their lives, but together they made each other feel worthy of affection, even though they could never get to a point where they understood why the other cared for them.
‘Eleanor & Park’ is February’s book of the month for my online book club. For all of its good qualities- the writing itself certainly being one of them- it fell short of where I wanted it to go or maybe just what I wanted it to be. It was sweet in places, had some hilarious 80’s cultural references, and had several good themes, but most were not fulfilled to my satisfaction. For example, the bullying that Eleanor endures is only partially addressed in the end. Topics of teenage drinking, drug usage, and sexual orientation is not addressed by the author. Also, the issues that come with Eleanor’s step father and her home life are never truly examined or dealt with. Another problem I had with the book was that I couldn’t help but compare it to ‘Twilight’. It was fairly distracting- however I could see why they were similar. They are all misfits, meet in a similar fashion, go through angst in not wanting to be close/being overly interested, becoming slightly obsessed with one another, etc, etc. Some might cry fowl- ‘but that’s what makes it a YA book!’ – perhaps that is true. They just seemed overtly similar… minus the glimmering vampire boyfriend and werewolf best friend.
In the end, I recognize the merit of this book, and why it was a New York Times Bestseller. I just wish there was a little more ‘meat on the bone.’
Click here to see my goals for 2015