Just because a book is popular, it doesn’t mean it’s great. This also mean too that if a book is popular that we can’t assume it’s bad, or if a book is unpopular that we can’t assume it’s bad.
Hype skews with our perception of what to read, and for some people, it’ll predetermine if they’re going to like a book or not.
It’s also problematic for people like me. I try to avoid the over hyped vortex as much as possible as a way to preserve my opinions and feelings about a book. It also makes it easier to read something when you’re going into a book with zero expectations.
Eleanor and Park has been talked about by many people, the general opinion being that they loved it. I love Rainbow Rowell’s books, especially Fangirl, but Eleanor and Park didn’t affect me the same way like it did to so many others.
Eleanor is the new girl at school, who reluctantly finds a seat on the bus next to Park, an Asian boy who everyone leaves alone apparently. Eleanor and Park do not like each other at first, but they start to learn that they have more in common than they originally had believed, and they fall in love with each other. If you haven’t guessed, Eleanor and Park is a young adult love story, a star-crossed-lovers plot, except less tragic than Romeo and Juliet.
I understand why so many people love this book. It’s adorable. The book’s cuteness factor is unmistakable. Arguably the targeted demography for this book is young adults, but adults may better appreciate this story. The book is relatable to anyone who has ever been young and in love; yet, Eleanor and Park generates more nostalgia about love than love itself.
Several times, I found myself gushing and squealing, and the book gave me a case of the feels. Moments in Eleanor and Park are like sprinkles on to ice cream, added to give it that extra sweetness. The problem I had with this book was its lack of substance. Beyond the love story itself, it’s hard to take away anything else from this story.
The romance is fairly conventional, formulaic and predictable. It’s obvious that the two protagonists, who initially dislike each other, will at some point fall for each other. It’s written from two different viewpoints, Park and Eleanor, which expands our periphery of this love story and convinces us that the two characters genuinely care for the other. It’s also what helps makes this love story believable and avoids turning this book into a one-sided, undisclosed love letter or turning one of the characters into an object of affection.
The character development is contingent on their budding, romantic feelings and their circumstantial situations. I find it frustrating that I couldn’t dissect Park and Eleanor as individuals. Eleanor is a victim throughout most of this story; her victimhood overshadows her identity and seemingly explains the reason as to why she is the way she is. People are more complex than that, and when characters can be summed up in just a few words, then there’s not a lot to say, which doesn’t make for the best of reads. Despite my frustrations, it doesn’t make these characters any less sympathetic. You’ll feel for them, but I don’t know if you’ll emphasize with them.
I especially enjoy Park’s story. He struggles to figure out who he is compared to marginalized notions of masculinity. Eleanor’s descriptions of Park are fairly effeminate, and Park even recognizes his own less than masculine features. Many of the conflicts occur between Park and Park’s father, an American veteran with traditional views on the appearance and behavior of men. Park’s conflict resembles a coming-of-age story as does Eleanor’s story, but I considerably like Park’s story more since it brings gender and racial questions into focus. I just wish there was more of this than the love story itself.
It’s also worth mentioning that the characters feel and look real. In comparison with an overwhelming amount of characters in the YA genre who have no pores on their faces and have somehow managed to bypass the effects of puberty, Eleanor and Park is a refreshing read. I wish the book had continued with this idea and left out Eleanor’s cosmetic transformation. It’s not only predictable, but it’s unnecessary to the plot. Nonetheless, the writing acutely triggers all the senses, exciting our eyes and tongues like candy. This is the real treat for your brain to enjoy. Better than any sprinkles.
The ending isn’t what I expected, which isn’t to say I hated it. It is a bittersweet ending, one that I can accept but didn’t like. For me to absorb and appreciate a book’s ending, I need to see everything that lead up to that point, all the garbage the characters had to clean away to come out on top (or fall to the bottom). We don’t see that in Eleanor and Park because of its attention on the relationship, which for the characters, is a form of escapism.
Even though I can rationalize why so many people enjoyed this book, I can’t understand why there is so much hype about it. It’s a conventional love story. I may just be misinformed about the tropes and conventions of love stories because I don’t read many of them, but I generally like books with more depth to them. I read this mostly because I enjoy YA, and it’s a Rowell book. And I don’t think it’s because I lack a heart. I’m in the minority group of readers who didn’t really enjoy this book.
Overall Eleanor and Park scratches just the surface emphasizing only the sweet parts about young love. There’s more I would have wanted to have read, but sometimes the book undermines itself by censoring the grit out, which would have made for a more interesting read.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.