007. Eleanor and Park

29 January 2015

Set in 1986, Eleanor and Park tells the story of two misfit teenagers, who find themselves falling in love with mix tapes, comic books and each other. As you may remember, I listed Eleanor and Park as one of my TBR books in Autumn - literally forever ago. I finally got round to finishing it after all this time. Yay me - getting through my TBR pile!

In this novel, Rainbow Rowell truly captures the essence of what it's like to be a teenager, awkwardly fumbling through life and its struggles. One of the things I liked about this book is that it isn't a polished version of reality. It discusses the hardships that both Eleanor and Park face in their everyday lives - without sugar-coating it. It's a story about personal struggles and what its like to fall in love for the first time, that readers of all ages can appreciate. Don't be fooled by it's synopsis either, this novel is not just about romance. That is literally just the surface of this book. I did have one main issue with this book - which I'll discuss down below in the spoilers ...

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Highlights ...
As you may be able to tell already, I love the way Eleanor and Park perfectly encapsulates what's its truly like to be a teenager - from attempting to fit into the crowd, to the awkwardness of when you fall in love for the first time. I put that down to Rainbow Rowell - she's definitely in touch with her inner teen!

My favourite aspect of the novel was how both characters struggle to find themselves and each other, with all the chaos around them. Eleanor is 
plagued by the complexity of her home life and her insecurities, and Park constantly struggling to figure out who he is, amongst the male figures in his life and his ethnic heritage. It was a nice change reading something unique and bold, which also brings to light some pretty important social issues. It offers a different way at looking at the world, which is thought-provoking. And isn't that what good literature should do?

Shortcomings ...

Before I read the book, I had heard so many people rave about Eleanor and Park was one of the best books and romance novels they've ever read, so my expectations were set pretty high. While Eleanor and Park was enjoyable and intriguing, it did not - disappointingly - live up to its hype. And that is partly because of my expectations. Partly.

One of my big issues with this novel was how it represented race. After reading it, I can understand why the Korean community weren't too happy with Eleanor and Park. Rainbow Rowell had the opportunity to explore an entirely different culture, but she didn't. Instead she practically avoided introducing the Korean identity in Eleanor and Park, by implying that Park's mother entirely rejected her entire Korean culture when she moved to the states. It felt like the easy way out, of what could have been an incredible factor and asset to the novel. The way Rainbow Rowell handled the Korean identity felt entirely like an ethnic name drop, with no real substance of any sort. So Park is Korean, and the only thing that defines him as Asian is the way he looks, and the fact he takes martial arts. It just felt - at times - so racially stereotypical, with no real depth. And the way Park's mother was defined by her beauty concious ways and her ability to speak in broken-English frustrated me to no end. I felt like there was so much more to be said about her. So much more to be explained. The whole situation kind of ruined the book for me.

As a British-Asian myself, I would have loved to have seen how Park dealt with the clash of his Western and Eastern identity, and the chance to learn more about the Korean culture. That would have been interesting and so awesome. I wish Rainbow Rowell explore that area more, with the same depth and attention that she did with Eleanor's home life and body image.

In Conclusion ...
I enjoyed reading Eleanor and Park.  It was a lovely read that explored so many socially important themes. Despite it's shortcomings, Eleanor and Park is a story worth reading, that will stay with you long till you turn the last page.

Read Eleanor and Park? Tell me what you thought about it!

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