I’m about 100% certain I will be kicked out of Cannonball Read for this review, but to mine own self I must be true, to borrow from Hamlet. So…here we go.
After hearing so.much about Rainbow Rowell and avoiding reading her books because of the hype, I decided it was time to wade in bravely. I decided to go with Eleanor and Park. I won’t recap it for you here, because just about everyone in the world has read it (and loved it). But I just did not feel ALL the things. And no, I don’t eat puppies for breakfast.
This book is yearning and wistful and sweet, filled with the kind of earnest and heartfelt dialogue that is just begging you to melt and love it. Eleanor and Park represent that first-love moment in a teenager’s life, back when you try to bottle forever into a short amount of time.
And I think that part of my problem is that I cannot relate. I did not fall in love in high school. Sure, I had crushes on boys, but I just didn’t *live* for any of them. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to go to college, and I really liked school. I didn’t like Grand Gestures or boys who declared their love immediately. So sometimes, I get really picky with YA romances, because I sometimes find feely-gushy romance a little Too Much (this, by the way, is a problem I have with John Green, too). And if you were to meet my husband, you might understand a little bit more. He and I joke a lot—we exchange witty banter and zingers, and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. I think we’re a bit of Emma and Mr. Knightley (sans age gap), or Nick and Nora Charles. And Eleanor and Park are just so earnest.
I will say that I did very much like the beginning friendship part that burgeoned between Eleanor and Park before the romance took over. Becoming friends and finding allies in a toxic environment is life-changing and magical. Having common interests, like music and comics, is neat. But I didn’t buy into their relationship, and the dialogue (for me) left much to be desired.
I also felt that having the book focus on the romance, instead of the family problems, cheapened the book for me. I was really, really compelled by Eleanor’s awful family situation, and I wanted her to find her way through it. If the book had been about Eleanor and trying to navigate her dysfunctional family, I probably would have really felt more emotionally invested. Also, how do ALL the adults not figure out that her home life is a wreck??? No, really. There were so.many.signs that her home life was a mess. Let’s start with the fact that (1) Richie was already well-known in The Flats. No guesswork that he was a total loser and probably highly toxic to his family. How does no one step in? (2) The family does not have a phone. Yes, I know it’s 1986. But a landline? Um, hello, Omaha is not Antarctica. (3) Based on the descriptions of Eleanor’s hygiene habits, she would have smelled like abuse. When I student-taught at public high school, we had a few kids in sketchy home situations. And you could smell it on them, poor things. Whether it was the lack of a shower, no laundry done in who knows how many weeks, or poor nutrition, you can sense neglect by how a teen smells. Maybe I’m being too logical about this, but I was very distracted by that part of the plot throughout the book.
On a totally different note, I loved Park’s mom. I want to hang out with her all day, where she does my hair and nails, and I would tell her stories about naughty or sassy students, and then we’d gossip all day over coffee and muffins.
Ultimately, I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t process romance the way this book presents it. It’s not bad, but it’s not my thing. I like a bit of bite, and this book is a bit too earnest for my taste. And I’m increasingly finding out, Ravenclaw that I am, that I just don’t do earnest (with the notable exception of the Anne of Green Gables books, and even then, I need a vacation from Anne).