Eleanor & Park

There are some books that I’ve heard of time and time again, some that seem to be nothing other than modern classics or on their way of turning into one. Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park is certainly one of those novels and after hearing so much about it knew I had to read it and join the hype. That’s not quite what happened.

Eleanor is the new girl in school. With her big, red hair and weird outfits she stands out even before she desperately searches for a place to sit on the bus. Park is the guy who reads comic books, listens to punk and wears black. They are each other’s opposites on the outside but on the inside they match completely. So after Park offer Eleanor to sit with him, it’s just a matter of time before they start to talk, and get to know each other, and fall in love. But Eleanor’s life, more crazy than her appearance, might be a lot heavier than Park imagines.

This is a story set in 1989, with neither cellphones nor computers, but an awful lot of mixed tapes and slightly odd hairstyles. At first they communicate through glances before moving on to small talk, comic book reading and stacks of mixed tapes. They don’t belong together but can’t stay away from each other either. Slowly some kind of relationship takes shape and life will never quite be the same again.

Eleanor is bullied by most girls in her class and have to endure a lot of crap and mean words thrown at her. Park is embarrassed at first and he don’t want people to know that he likes Eleanor, and even less that they’re sort of a couple. They’re both sixteen and I’m not surprised at the way Park reacts or behaves, but I was glad when he stood up for her and, later on, didn’t care either how people view her or himself.

Part of me thinks this is a great book, because it touches some very heavy subjects. Eleanor being bullied, for one, but also her home-life. Her mother is remarried and her stepfather is an abusive man who both drinks and do drugs. She lives with them and her four younger siblings in a tiny house and frequently wakes up to hear her mother plead and cry while her stepfather hits her. Eleanor despises their life but has nowhere to go and no one to turn to. Her mother doesn’t quite seem to care how Eleanor feels. Her mom is in a tricky situation, having to think about both her children and herself while at the same time not upset her husband. This is hard and I could write an essay about this subject alone, but I will refrain from that. What I will say, however, is that even though her mom might have a really hard time trying to get away from her husband, or even wanting to, it baffled me how she let her children live in such a household and, to at times, almost blame Eleanor for not liking her family. I can understand women married to men who abuses them but I can’t understand Eleanor’s mother. She seemed indifferent to Eleanor at times, like she wanted to say “This is how we live and it’s perfectly normal and you just have to accept that.” But I don’t think you can ever accept the kind of life Eleanor had to live.

Park, in comparison, lives a good life. He has a mother, father and younger brother. His own room with a stereo and a questionable waterbed and seems content. He does fight with both parents at times, but never about the same thing with both, something that happens with every teenager. In that aspect, Park’s life seemed to mirror the way it feels to grow up and trying to find your own way and who you really are and I think Rowell painted that picture splendidly.

What is it, then, with this book that I didn’t quite like? Well, I felt like I was too old for it. It’s about these two sixteen year olds and I guess I have to face the fact that I’m not sixteen anymore. I’m not even a teenager, so this probably wasn’t the book for me. A lot of YA novels works for me, but this didn’t. It felt like it was too much and too little at the same time. It was childish from my perspective but I’m sure younger people loves it and I can almost see way. Because Eleanor is from a difficult family and you sympathize with her and Park is from a completely normal family but he stands out and doesn’t quite seem to belong in that little neighborhood.

Other than that it felt childish and just wasn’t a real fit for me I did feel like there wasn’t very much chemistry between Eleanor and Park. She’s very shy and neither of them very experienced, so it gets awkward from time to time, and from my more grown-up perspective, not in a cute way. I didn’t have a problem with them being together, I just didn’t like the story at all. It just… felt off for me. I wanted to like it and I thought I would, but I didn’t. It was more than I expected it would be, what with Eleanor’s complicated family, but it didn’t feel right and I was disappointed. Neither Eleanor nor Park had something that made me committed to the story and since all other characters was nothing more than shadows in the background, it kind of fell apart pretty quick for me.

The ending was another thing that I didn’t really enjoyed, even though I see the point Rowell wanted to make. I also didn’t like that so many things got left in the air, or left out altogether. What happened with the bigger portion of the rest of the characters? It might be the story about Eleanor and Park, yes, but why couldn’t I find out what happened to all the others?

Like mentioned earlier, for someone a few years younger than me, this is probably a perfect novel. It touches tough subjects and it touches subjects that play a big part in many teenagers' life. I wouldn’t be surprised if this novel has helped and made quite a few people feel better, but this just wasn’t for me and I am sad about that. I will leave this book for you young kids to enjoy.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

I don’t read many classics but one that’s been on my to-read list for years now, is The Picture of Dorian Gray. I first heard it mentioned in another novel some time ago and was intrigued but didn’t get around to pick up a copy and read it until now. Part of me is glad that I waited, because I do feel this is a story that you not only really need to want to read but also maybe shouldn't read when too young since it involves a lot of deep talk and thinking and a generally philosophical way of living.

When Dorian Gray is a young man, barley more than a boy, he sits for a painting made by his friend Basil. It’s a delightful picture but Dorian’s beauty annoys him when he realizes that while he will age and lose his pretty face, the picture will not. A quickly-spoken wish soon turn into a dream, which later will change to a nightmare.

I have to be honest and say that I usually don’t read classics because I believe they will be heavy in language and slightly boring in the plot. I am afraid I won’t see what so many others have seen in the book I’ve chosen to read or that I will miss some big point just because I have trouble keeping up with the old language and way of writing. This might be a bad reason not to seek out more classics, but it’s still a reason. When it comes to Oscar Wilde’s only novel these reasons applied just like with other classics, but I was determined to read it nonetheless. Now that I have I feel content and happy, for it was quite a read.

The fears I had popped up while reading but didn’t really bother me. The language isn’t as heavy as I thought it might and even though it still feels old, which it is, it’s hardly a problem. It actually has a nice ring to it. Parts of the story, however, was very heavy. Filled with descriptions and meaningless facts just heaped on me. I powered through that and found parts with witty dialogs and scenes dripping with tension. At times it felt like wading through mud and there were moments when I lost focus and started to stare out into space before I had to remind myself that I was reading. But I do feel Wilde wanted to give the reader that exact feeling, because far from the entire story was written this way. I never thought about not continuing and I am glad I kept going, because it’s quite clear why it’s a classic.

The story itself is so very interesting. It’s about young man Dorian Gray and the picture Basil paints of him. But it’s also about a man that Dorian befriends, Lord Henry, and his views and ideas of the world. Dorian is young when they meet and Lord Henry immediately sees something in him. They become friends rather quickly, despite Basil’s protestations, and the entering of Lord Henry in Dorian’s life is soon evident. He changes when Lord Henry starts talking about how he sees life and how he feels life should be lived and viewed and a great bunch of other opinions he heaps on Dorian. Our main character, in turn, is a blank slate that sucks up everything Lord Henry says and takes it to his heart.

Slowly, throughout the story, you see the change which Lord Henry has on Dorian. What Henry thinks seeps into Dorian’s life, his way of living. Henry has so very many opinions about everything and I myself agreed with about none of them. There were moments when I felt he was on to something interesting only to throw out the most ridiculous comment which made me cringe. Things he said actually made me feel bad and at times disgusted because it was such a strange way of seeing life and I could slowly see how Lord Henry had gotten to Dorian. He projected his own views into this young man and took a step back to watch what Dorian would do. It was like an experiment were Dorian’s whole life was just a thing for Lord Henry to study and Dorian never noticed it.

I think the real point of the story doesn’t really have that much to do with the picture itself, but rather of the way Lord Henry manipulated Dorian into exactly what he wanted. Dorian turned cruel and callous and was swept into a downward going spiral which you knew could never end in anything good. He might have made his own choices, but I hardly believe he would’ve lived his life the way he did had he not met Lord Henry. It fascinated me to think of who Dorian would’ve been if they had never met.

Personally I found this to be a great read. It was a little slow at times, yes, but it was great nevertheless. Interesting in so many ways and with both the story about the picture and Dorian’s friendship with Lord Henry turning the novel into two stories entwining. If it was one thing that I was to comment on then it would be that, later in the story, many people talk about Dorian, there’s gossip and scandals about him, but as a reader you never get to hear most of them. I would’ve liked to hear some, if just one or two, so I could understand who he became a little better. Other than that, no complains. Like I said, it’s a classic for a reason and I am very glad that I finally got around to read it. I definitely recommend it as a very interesting read!

The Geography of You and Me

There are few things worse than having longed to read a book only to get it in your hands and realize that it was far, far from what you anticipated. And even worse when you thought you were going to get a specific kind of story only to realize that what was actually between that cover was not what was advertised on the back.

Lucy has lived all her life in New York, resided on the twenty-fourth floor in an elegant apartment building. Owen has just moved from Pennsylvania with his dad and now lives in the basement apartment in the same house as Lucy. They’ve seen each other before but not talked until that day when they got stuck in the elevator together, during a city wide blackout. After they get out they spend the night together, waiting for the power to come back on and enjoying each other’s company. But when power is restored and everything returns to normal, Lucy and Owen is faced with reality once again. And reality means moving in two different directions and probably never seeing the other one again.

This is what the back of the book promises, what I thought I would get when I read the novel. From what I gathered, Lucy and Owen would be stuck in the elevator for some time and then spend the rest of the night wandering the streets of New York together. I thought they would move in two different directions but keep in touch through postcards, letters, email and phone calls, because that’s what the back of the book told me. That’s not what happened. This is what the book really is about:

Lucy has lived all her life in New York, resided on the twenty-fourth floor in an elegant apartment building. Owen has just moved from Pennsylvania with his dad and now lives in the basement apartment in the same house as Lucy. They’ve seen each other before but not talked until that day when they got stuck in the elevator together, during a city wide blackout. After they’ve spent less than an hour in the elevator, they get rescued and decides to go outside to get some provision before returning to the building and spending the rest of the night on the roof, staring at the stars and finally falling asleep. It takes them a month to both leave New York, while the back suggests it’s just a few days. And I would hardly say that the occasional postcard and email was “staying in touch”. Also, I’m lead to believe the novel runs over the course of one year when in reality it’s nine months.

What does this have to do with anything, you might wonder. Well, I feel cheated, that’s what I feel. I was promised a story about two people meeting in an elevator, spending the night together and forming a bond that would last over thousands of miles. It was a love story, the back of the book promised me. But from where I was standing, it was more a barely evolved friendship.

Lucy moves to Scotland and Owen goes west with his father. They stay in touch through postcard, from Owen’s side since the “going out west” didn’t actually mean “move out west” but “going on a road trip”. That means Lucy doesn’t have an address to send postcards to and have to settle for emailing, which Owen never replies to. Lucy sends multiple and gets very short postcards in return. They never send letters. They never text. They never talk on the phone. They do chat, once, and wonder why they’ve never done it before, but that’s toward the end of the book. Owen says he’s not a social network kind of person and Lucy thinks she’s better from afar than in person. This creates somewhat of a weird relationship. Before they leave New York they only spend that first night together, because it seems impossible for either of them to knock on the other’s door once the power is back on. Does this sound like a great love story? No, didn’t think so.

Since the novel is made on the grounds of Lucy and Owen communicating with thousands of miles between them, the story kind of falls flat when that communication doesn’t work. Lucy meets a guy in Scotland and they get together but she feels guilty since she doesn’t know what Owen is to her. Owen meets a girl in Tahoe and does not feel guilty because he knows that Lucy is just his friend, but he does get jealous when he finds out she has a boyfriend. After an autumn with a few postcards and emails and then radio silence for weeks they meet up, eat some Mexican food and fight and don’t talk for months, but both breaks if off with their partner. It’s a weird story told in third person and alternating chapters which lets you see what both characters are up to. They have no chemistry and there wasn’t one moment when I wanted them to end up together. I really couldn’t see it and somehow the entire novel evolves around this relationship which is farther away from a love story than anything I’ve read before. It was, if anything, a disaster.

At times I felt like too much happened without it really happening anything at all. It was just a lineup of places and cities and countries they visited as the story moved on, like it was things that author Jennifer E. Smith thought should happen but never put any real feeling into while writing. It left the novel shallow and boring. It was a page-flipper, yes, but not in a good way. And about 70% through I swept past ten pages which only contained a few sentences each. It was pretty much just one chapter of “Lucy said this to her mom” and one where “Owen said this to his dad.” In one chapter Lucy turned west and Owen east. In one Lucy breathed in and Owen breathed out. I see what Smith tried to do here and it was a novel try, I’ll give her that, but it did not work out. All it really did was piss me of, because even though I saw what she tried to say, what did it bring to the story? A bunch of mostly empty pages and unnecessarily killed trees.

Throughout the novel I had the feeling that it was a book. Sometimes when you read you forget it isn’t real. You believe the characters are actually alive and you’re invested in their story. But in The Geography of You and Me I knew it was a book all along and it wasn’t just that nothing happened to make me forget it, it was so obvious that it followed a carefully crafted storyline which practically made you see the author behind every word, behind every event. That’s not a good story and neither, by the way, was the writing.

Something that struck me as odd was Lucy’s parents and her relationship with them. She was sixteen and they had been, and still were, traveling around the world without a care for either her or her brothers (now moved away from home). Lucy was left on her own in New York while her parents were in Paris or London. She accepted that without ever saying it was weird, because that’s how it always had been, and she didn’t even say that she thought it was unkind of them to later move to Scotland and bring her along without consulting her. They just sprung it on her one day and when they later left Scotland to move to London, just a few months after that, again they just heaved it on her with no care in the world, like it didn’t matter that she had just spent a few months in a new school and now needed to start yet another one. Lucy accepted that, too, though she didn’t really like it but never said so. And when she spoke to her mother about always having wished she could’ve come on her parents trips around the world, her mom kindly told her that if that’s what she really wanted then she could’ve just asked. Like, okay. Sorry, mom, that I didn’t realize all I had to do was ask to come along when you and dad flitted of to Paris for three weeks.

Next to them, Owen’s dad seems a bit better, but when you think about it, I’m not sure he is. See, Owen’s mom passed away a few months before the book takes off and now he and his dad is trying their best to escape the pain of that on a road trip across the U.S. But wait, isn’t it in the middle of a school year? Oh, it’s so good, then, that Owen is a genius and has enough credits that he doesn’t need to attend school. He can just read on the road, enlist in a school when they stay in a place long enough for it to seem worthwhile, and then move on to another town. But if that’s the case, why doesn’t he just graduate early so he can leave all the tedious and boring studying of things he already knows behind him? This was an odd, odd move from the author and Owen’s dad as well. I realize that the U.S is different, but something like that would never be accepted by neither authorities nor schools where I’m from.

As you can see, I have nothing nice to say about this book and a lot of complaints. Probably, again, because I feel cheated. I was promised a delicious pizza and I got a cold sandwich. The story was boring and the characters had no depth. The chapters were too short and nothing really happened. There was no real flow and no real feeling, just words that didn’t mean anything. I never connected to neither the story nor the characters and after a while I just wanted to finish it and move on to something more deserving of my time. In the end I was left empty and tired and I couldn’t tell you one good thing about this novel if you so threatened me with a gun. This is not what I would call a good book and definitely not a good love story. I advise you to save your money and give your time to a book more worthy of it.