Friday, August 4, 2017

Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & ParkBut what were the three words?  That is the question plaguing me after this one.  There's an obvious guess, but with Rainbow Rowell, can we ever really know?  (She actually has an answer to this up on her FAQ but is it real or not?)

Anyway.  This is a young adult romance novel about the two titular characters, Eleanor and Park.  I don't remember either of their last names, if they were ever mentioned.  Eleanor is on the heavy side, and big in general.  She's just starting a new school after her mother retrieves her from the family friends she's been living with for the past year, ever since her abusive stepfather threw her out.  Her mother and stepfather are still together, though, and Eleanor shares a small bedroom with her five siblings, has no privacy, is bullied at school, and is generally miserable.  Park is half-Korean, an oddity in their town, and is into comic books and music.  When Eleanor sits next to him on the bus, they form a wary truce, then a strange friendship, and eventually a romance.

Both characters are sixteen, sophomores in high school, and, as the book blurb says, "smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts."  There's a sense of inevitability about their relationship because of that, and one that seems to play out at several parts of the book.  And it's kind of heartbreaking, in more than one sense.  Eleanor's home life is absolutely terrible.  Her stepfather isn't physically abusive towards her, as it's suggested he is towards her mother, but he's definitely emotionally and mentally abusive towards the whole family, has rage and alcohol issues, and generally makes life hell for Eleanor and her siblings.  Pair that with the bullying Eleanor gets at school, for being big and redheaded, and life is pretty awful for her in general.  Park is a light in her life.  And while Park genuinely does care about Eleanor, he's just not as interesting of a character.  His race isn't really an issue in the book--not that it has to be, but it would be the obviously bullying point of Rowell had chosen to go in that direction, which she didn't--his family is pretty nice in general, and his biggest worry other than Eleanor seems to be learning to drive a stick shift so that he can get his license.  Now, I don't think both main characters needed to have bad lives; that would have made for a very dark and downer book, and probably not one for the audience Rowell was aiming for.  But I just didn't care as much about Park, because I didn't need to.  He was fine, so I could focus my emotional efforts on Eleanor, and I think Park as a character suffered because of that.

I listened to this as an audiobook.  I think the narrators fit the characters pretty well, which was nice.  Eleanor's narrator is the same woman who narrated Dark Places, which was kind of a weird mental disconnect for most of the book because DP and E&P differ so much in content, but that kind of came full circle toward the end of the book.  Some of the voices they do for different characters are goofy, and I continue to lament that not all audiobooks are done with an ensemble cast for every character who speaks.  Sigh.

But yes, an enjoyable young adult romance.  I think people who like comics and the types of music that the characters listen to would like this, too, because it's kind of unusual in books.

4 stars out of 5.

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