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.