Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & ParkHe'd stopped trying to bring her back.

She only came back when she felt like it, in dreams and lies and broken-down déjà vu.

Like, he’d be driving to work, and he’d see a girl with red hair standing on the corner—and he’d swear, for half a choking moment, that it was her.

Then he’d see that the girl’s hair was more blond than red.

And that she was holding a cigarette . . . And wearing a Sex Pistols T-shirt.

Eleanor hated the Sex Pistols.

Eleanor . . .
Standing behind him until he turned his head. Lying next to him just before he woke up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough.

Eleanor ruining everything.

Eleanor, gone.

He’d stopped trying to bring her back.

What an intense first prologue. It really captures what the book is like. "Set over the course of one school year in 1986, Eleanor and Park is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try." Eleanor and Park didn't immediately draw me in; it's a book that starts slowly. You don't realize that you're absorbed until it's too late, just like Eleanor and Park don't realize how much they care for one another until it's too late. 

That said, contemporary romance is really not one of my favorite genres, and as I was reading Eleanor & Park I remembered why. It's a better romance than most, obviously, but it was still really sappy and unrealistic at times. It was kind of like insta-love. I could really see how Eleanor and Park might go from ignoring one another to being friends, but the romance, the central part of the story, just didn't work for me. How could they suddenly love each other so, so much after like two weeks? It all felt forced, and the construct of them reading comics together didn't feel real to me. 

I did like the contrast between Eleanor's home life and Park's home life. Park's family is basically perfect, except for some minor quarrels with his father, whereas Eleanor is living in a tiny home with her mother, siblings, and her horrible step-father. But the thing is, even that didn't feel right to me. Nothing about this realistic novel seemed realistic. There are fantasies that feel more realistic than Eleanor & Park, if that makes sense. The world created in some fantasy novels just works, but it didn't in this novel. I also didn't understand why Eleanor's mom put up with her second husband, who's clearly a jerk. The book isn't set in the 19th century; it's set in 1986. There's such a thing as a divorce, as the police. 

But the thing is, in some ways, I really liked Rainbow Rowell's writing style even though so many aspects of the novel didn't work for me. I think she has major potential, but this one just didn't work for me. But she is a good writer, and another book could be very good. She already has one other novel, Attachments

I guess I was just expecting Eleanor & Park to be very good and very life-changing. It was neither of those.  What it was was full of cliches. The whole love-at-first sight thing can work sometimes, but it didn't work in Eleanor & Park. I got really annoyed with both of the main characters. Also, there seems to be a thing to set YA fiction in the late 80's and early 90's, so that you can have mix-tapes and Walkman's. As far as I can see, that and the music they were listening to was the only reason that Eleanor & Park is set in 1986. So the time period really didn't work for me either. 

(Sigh). I really wanted to like this book, but I didn't. At times it was even cringe-worthy, and I struggled with finishing it. It was a real disappointment to me, although I will say that it was very gripping and the later sections were a bit better. I also liked the way the book ended, and the second half redeemed itself a bit. For the type of book that it is, Eleanor & Park has a great ending, but overall it left me wanting something more. Thanks to St. Martin's for providing me with a review copy. 

Read Eleanor & Park:
  • if you like realistic fiction
  • if you like romance
  • if you like John Green (he liked Eleanor and Park)
325 pages. 
Okay book, but it left me wanting more!

It got better as it progressed, but it still could have been a much more compelling book.

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