Tuesday, 16 December 2014

'Eleanor & Park' by Rainbow Rowell

Date finished: 16 December 2014

Rating: 4/5 stars

From the second I started reading Eleanor and Park, I was terrified by the fact that so many people had raved about it. Not that it’s a bad thing that so many people read and enjoy a book; it’s just that after practically half of the world’s population has declared its undying love for something, it will undoubtedly fall short in the minds of those who read it after it’s become “overrated”.

However, I dare say that Eleanor and Park did not disappoint. Too much. I have relatively mixed feelings about this book, and although the good outweigh the bad by quite a bit, I think I’ll start off with a few criticisms before I praise Rowell for her genius, and then yell at her for making me cry.

I have only a few minor issues with the storyline. To begin with, I found that the first hundred-or-so pages were quite difficult to read, and the events seemed a little clouded, as though I was watching the story unfold through a cloud. This quickly resolved, though, and about halfway through the book I was entranced. In fact, when I turned the last page, I was beyond shocked that the story had ended so quickly. Secondly, although I commend Rowell on being one of the few authors able to – finally – write a story about teens in love without the “Insta-Love-In-A-Can” rubbish, I did find that Eleanor and Park’s relationship was just a little random. As in, it seemed to snowball out of almost nothing. Perhaps this is just me totally misunderstanding their beautiful connection and the power of their love or whatever, though, so maybe it’s best to ignore me on this point.

This is the second book of Rainbow Rowell’s that I have read (the first being Fangirl), and I seriously have to commend her on her writing. Everything she writes seems so effortless – reading her books is fun and simple and heartwarming, but she manages to avoid being “fluffy”. I also love her characters, and I love, love, love how Eleanor wasn’t flimsy or ditsy, as are so many female protagonists in the YA Romance genre.

And while, we’re on the topic of Eleanor, let me sing my praises that an author finally – FINALLY – created a female protagonist that didn’t have a “wispy, fragile figure” or “bones like glass”. Eleanor was real, and Rowell made her desirable not in spite of her appearance, but sometimes because of it. Park loves Eleanor and he loves the way she looks, and I thought that was special. (I’m quite sick of male protagonists stating that they would love a woman no matter what she looked like. Quite frankly, it’s often untrue, and I would prefer somebody who loved the way that I looked inside and out over somebody who constantly had to see past my looks to remember why he loved me.)

But Rowell didn’t stop there – she also exposed the nasty part of society that shames women who are overweight, or even just slightly larger than “waiflike”. Eleanor was bullied because of her appearance, but she never turned to diets or starving herself to make herself look like the “pretty” girls. She was just herself – she cried when Park’s mom put makeup on her, for goodness’ sake – and that was truly quite inspirational.

My final comment is on the ending, because that was so not fair. Come on Rowell, I got through 350-odd pages of crying over how perfect Eleanor and Park were just for… well… that? I need closure. I’m actually about to start crying again just thinking about those last few pages. You ripped out my heart, tore it open and danced a sacrificial ritual around it, with fire and blood and everything. I expected you to sew it back up for me, but instead I got a Band-Aid and a used tissue. I demand a sequel.

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