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Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Publisher: Orion
Format: Nook book
Rating: 3/5

The year is 1986. Eleanor is the new girl. Park is just managing to fly under the radar. At least until Eleanor decides to sit next to him on the school bus. Over the course of a school year, against all odds, Eleanor and Park become friends and fall in love over a shared appreciation of music and comic books.

It took a while to get into this book but in the end I appreciated Rainbow Rowell tackling some big issues wrapped up in a story about finding love in the bleakest of times. First of all: inter-racial relationships. I cannot think of many books that I have read featuring inter-racial couples. Diversity in YA in general isn't that great but that's a HUGE topic that I shall leave to the professionals. 

Rainbow Rowell managed to subtly open a dialogue about what defines us. Park is American with Korean and Irish heritage. Despite living a fairly 'normal' American life, he spends a lot of time pondering his Korean side - perhaps because he is closer to his mother. The scene where he admitted to not feeling 'sexy' because there aren't many Asian crossover, male heartthrobs was heartbreaking but there was a thread of truth. I can totally see where he is coming from as I think most people who cannot see themselves reflected in the media have this feeling at least once in a while. Park's questioning of why Eleanor found him attractive was depressing but then again didn't he have a right to know why? There was an interesting debate the other day on Celebitchy after something Viola Davis said along with continued interest in Michael Fassbender's inter-racial relationships- the ladies were debating how big a difference there is between preference and fetish (Read if here. For what it's worth, I agree with Kaiser). I kept thinking about this debate whilst reading Eleanor & Park- their relationship, Park's parents' relationships. Perhaps Rainbow Rowell wanted to challenge us in this area? Eleanor never really mentioned her Danish heritage, except at Christmas when confronted with her step-father and his demand for an American Christmas dinner with pumpkin pie. It made me think, what pushes us over the edge and makes us pull out our inner heritage? 

Rainbow Rowell also sensitively handled Eleanor's horrible family situation without turning it into an after-school special type story. Her construction of Eleanor's world was more along the lines of 'this is how it is- what can you do?' This added to the poignancy that underpinned the story. 

None of the characters were particularly likeable- except for perhaps Park's mother, Mindy- and a few were unnescessary. For example, Cal and Kim - I didn't get that part of the story. It seemed to be more filler than anything else, which was a shame. Also, I'm usually a big fan of dual narration but I didn't like it here. I would've liked to hear just one story and have it go into more detail - probably Eleanor's first and then perhaps a sequel, a year on, with Park. He'd definitely have more to explore internally and externally after meeting Eleanor, making his character a lot more three-dimensional. 

However, Eleanor & Park was an interesting read. It was a little bit more than your run of the mill, YA love story because it was more about friendship amidst adversity. All you need is that one person to send you a half smile and BOOM - day made. 

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