Ok, so bear with me, this is my first ever book review, unless you want to count the ones I had to do for book reports in the third grade, but I’m really hoping this one will trump those (I’d say I set my expectations at a reasonable level). So, unfortunately if you read this book and absolutely adored it this post may not be for you to read, (unless you are one of those AMAZING people that can actually accept that other people have different options from you), because the things I have to say about Eleanor & Park are far from positive. First off, I will admit that this book did make me laugh….at it. I could not believe that not only did someone write this thinking it was good enough to be published, but then an publisher (whose supposed to know their literature) allowed it to leave the printing press.
I read this book, because it was recommended to be by a friend. When trying new things, I usually keep an open mind, so I come out feeling really good about things most of the time. Some people actually say that I tend to dish out my stamp of approval too freely. This is why coming out of Eleanor & Park disliking it surprised me.
- Rowell’s Writing Style
Reading Eleanor & Park took me back to the days when I used to venture into the on-level books in the library of my elementary school. Fourth-grade me would have had no problem breezing through this book, and not because I was reading above grade level, but because the writing in Eleanor & Park was so simplistic (and not in a elegant kind of way).
- Racist Jokes
The racist jokes in this book were unnecessary. They weren’t funny or clever, so I couldn’t even appreciate their crudeness. They also didn’t add to the heart of the book, so I feel as though removing them would only help. I’ve read some reviews of Eleanor & Park and most people either fail to mention the many racist statements or actually say that Rowell was addressing racism in her book. See that’s where I am confused, because all Rowell ever did was say racist things. The fact that the racist statements were wrong and shouldn’t be said was never addressed or corrected.
- Response to Bullying
Eleanor is constantly bullied throughout this book, and not in any low key teasing kind of way either. Some kids actually break into her gym locker and throw her clothes in the toilet. And the adults who learn of this incident…are not any help. No, the coach actually makes Eleanor fish the clothes out herself, and then no disciplinary action is taken towards the kids who did it. I know that this book is supposed to be set in the 80s, but I don’t like Rowell’s portrayal of adults reaction to bullying. It makes it seem like one can not seek help from a trusted adult, when trouble arises.
- Eleanor’s Body Image
The way Eleanor describes herself is simply horrendous. Reading it would give any girl body image issues. I feel as though she was either curvy or thick because, when she looked at other “fat” girls she was grateful for not being that big. On the other hand, I can see how this sets her up as a teenage girl. She’s constantly comparing herself to others to see where she fits into the weight spectrum. Against girls like Tina she’s “Big Red”, but when she looks at Beebi she feels bad for considering herself fat when there are people so much bigger.
- Portrayal of a Broken Home
Eleanor grows up in a small crowded home with several brothers and sisters, a drunken abusive stepdad (Richie), and mother who’s goal is to go through the day without pissing off Richie. Rowell painted the domestic and child abuse very well in the book. Eleanor was too scared or ashamed to use her resources to get help. The mother tried to pretend that everything was okay, and went through hell and high water to make sure the world revolved at just the speed Richie wished for. And Richie managed to do everything wrong as a father. Except the small Christmas scene, where Richie finally got his shit together (and then ruined that later again with another tantrum). The Christmas scene is probably the one and only part that really got to in the book (tears actually well up in my eyes). The entire book I felt so bad for those kids, and I hated Richie with every fiber in my being (like go pass out in a ditch and die already), so when he finally did something nice for them I really felt for them.
- yeah, no that was it
After writing this review, I don’t dislike Eleanor & Park as much as I originally did. As I wrote, I was able to process the reasons why I disliked this book, and that helped me see why maybe Rowell included some of the components (maybe). I’m not saying I loved the book (or even like it), but I can now tolerate. I would love to hear others thoughts!
***2015 Reading Challenge: A book a friend recommended