Book Review: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Book Review: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (YA) 4 Stars ****

Set in 1986 Omaha, Nebraska, sixteen-year-olds Eleanor and Park initially meet each other on the school bus. Eleanor, being the new kid— unattractive, ill-at-ease, poorly dressed, defensive— finds herself the butt of many jokes from the bus and school bullies. Park comes to her defense and soon develops a crush on Eleanor. Eleanor returns the feelings.

The story is told in alternating short narratives which reinforces how different these two characters are from each other. Eleanor is Caucasian, sloppily dressed, wild red curly hair, from a highly dysfunctional, poor family with four siblings and her mother’s drunken husband spreading fear on a daily basis. Eleanor’s mother tries passively to protect her children. Eleanor receives very little encouragement and often bears the brunt of her step-father’s anger which we later learn comes from sexual tension on the stepfather’s part.

Park is a handsome Caucasian-Asian, trendy, well-liked, popular, from a middle class functional family with one brother and two parents who love and respect each other. Park’s mother works as a hairdresser from her home and shares the parental power in the household. Park is guided, encouraged, and treated fairly.

What do they have in common? They both are in some Honors classes together and they share their love of music and poetry. Eleanor loves Park’s steadfast loyalty and Park loves Eleanor’s quiet strength in her difficult situation.

This is a sweet, realistic story of tentative romance demonstrating how sometimes painfully opposites attract. Chapter One starts off with a whole lot of cursing—”It so fucking does!”—”You’re full of shit.”—”Jesus-fuck…”—to name a few. Thankfully, this is not repeated in the rest of the book. The sex scenes are not explicit—mostly very tender undressing, touching, kissing—without intercourse or oral stimulation.

The reader learns that what appears to be may not actually tell the story. Secret, negative actions were attributed to the wrong people. Sometimes people don’t have choices in their lives. For example, if someone dresses “funny” it may mean that’s all they have from donations in clothing boxes, hand-me-downs, clearance merchandise. Not wearing make-up? Some parents do not allow it, so it’s not always a personal choice. You get the idea. Unless we walk a mile in someone’s shoes…

The ending, although realistic in many ways, is not satisfactory. Eleanor is sheltered but she closes herself off to contact with Park. It all hurts too much and she cannot seem to find the words except on the last page when her postcard message “just three words long.” What three words? The reader must surmise. Also, Eleanor does not share any information about her new circumstances at her uncle’s home other than she is enrolled in school to finish the last month before summer vacation. I wanted to hear more from Eleanor, but it seems she is just not capable of sharing her life. The separation from Park and her siblings is just too much to bear.

We believe Eleanor’s siblings and mother may also have been extricated from the horror they lived. For me, it’s unconscionable to show examples of neglect, abuse, and hopelessness and not give explicit information as to how these characters are given a helping hand. After all, this is a story of fiction, not real life, so I do not want to continue to unnecessarily feel the heartache for these characters when the story is finished.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2018

Saturday, March 14, 2020- Barnes & Noble, Massapequa, NY 12:00-4:00pm

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