I struggled quite a lot with coming to a conclusion about how I felt about this book. On the one hand, I liked that the characters felt real and different to the typical YA contemporary protagonist, but I also am not a big fan of novels that have romance as its main storyline and I didn’t feel like this book’s writing was enough to my tastes for me to be really swept away by it. I didn’t really feel that fuzzy warmth that you look to feel from a love story, but I enjoyed the characters’ families and their storylines.
Eleanor & Park is about the titular characters and their relationship. Eleanor has just moved back in with her mother, siblings and her mother’s abusive husband, so she’s new to the school. To make things worse, she dresses all wrong, and she’s overweight (Rainbow Rowell wrote a really interesting comment piece on this here). Park is half-Korean, loves bands and comic books and lives with both parents and his brother in domestic bliss. While you can’t judge a book called Eleanor & Park for being predictable for focusing on the relationship between Eleanor and Park, I just felt like the actual development of the relationship was boring, and it wasn’t until the very end of the novel that I actually felt emotionally affected by the book. While I’m not a fan of romance novels, I do usually enjoy YA contemporaries enough to get past this. However, in this novel, I didn’t feel like there was enough emotion in the writing and I didn’t once come away feeling butterflies in my stomach. It simply felt like I was reading two characters back and forth, reading their actions and speech, and the emotion behind the actions just wasn’t strong enough for me. While it was clear that this relationship was a sincere and sweet relationship, I just would have really loved to feel it more strongly.
On the other hand, I loved the strong role that each of the characters’ families play in the book. YA books often relegate parents to the background of characters’ storylines, which I personally find unrealistic – after all, I see my parents everyday, and I don’t understand how you could ever take me without my family. In this novel however, both families feature heavily, not only in providing context for the central relationship but actually contributing to the plot of the novel. I liked the contrast between the two families, as Park’s family is so loving compared to Eleanor’s. I also think that, while I didn’t think Rowell’s writing really succeeded in making me care a lot about the romance storyline, I did feel really strongly with regard to Eleanor’s home setting. It didn’t feel sensationalised in the way that abusive family dynamics can be made to feel in media, instead, Rowell made the tension in the household clear, even if there was no direct violence. There are scenes where Eleanor’s step-father isn’t even scene, and you can still feel his oppressive presence.
Overall, I didn’t love this book, but I didn’t not like it. I think that I would have loved the novel if the writing had been a bit more to my liking, perhaps less simple and conversational in tone and more descriptive about the characters’ emotions. This was a good book, but I just don’t think it was the right book for me, and sometimes that just happens. I know that other people love this book, so if you like YA contemporary, or sweet romances, definitely give this book a try and tell me what you think!