Another Rainbow Rowell book - how she exploded onto the YA scene with Eleanor and Park...
Eleanor is the new girl in town, and with chaotic family life, her mismatched clothes and unruly red hair, she couldn't stick out more if she tried. Park is the boy at the back of the bus. Black T-shirts, headphones, head in book - he thinks he's made himself invisible. But not to Eleanor... never to Eleanor. Slowly, steadily, through late night conversations and an ever-growing stack of mix tapes, Eleanor and Park fall for each other. They fall in love the way you do the first time, when you're young, and when you feel you have nothing and everything to lose.
I'd been waiting so long to get my hands on a copy of Eleanor and Park. Since reading Fangirl and doing nothing short of obsessing over it, I was eager to check out Rowell's other offerings. This was her YA debut that got people talking, after all; my expectations were high.
On opening the book, I was almost surprised to find split third person narration between Eleanor and Park, something I'd only ever come across in Jenny Downham's 'You Against Me.' However, third person seems to be Rowell's strength, following the two teenagers closely and getting right inside their heads. Similar to Fangirl, if written in first person, Eleanor ran the risk of becoming whiny and unlikable - a real turn off for readers. The style also made this another easy read meaning I was able to race through the story. However, as with any kind of third person, the author does have a habit of slipping into the classic 'tell not show' trap. It's a difficult one to get out of, as I've found when experimenting with different narratives and I think on this occasion, the reader will have to accept no style is perfect. I think Rowell made the best decision here, this was refreshing and everything flowed well. It just worked.
Having a John Green quote on the cover immediately gave me an idea of the style and genre Eleanor and Park fits into - the kind of American 'realism' that I mentioned in an earlier post. There are so many different sides to this kind of style, some better than others. One of the more positive ones in this instance were the quotes. It's. So. Quotable. The thing that made Eleanor and Park more realistic and original though, was that it wasn't the author hiding behind their characters. The poetic style of some of the lines didn't make the dialogue cringey, as alot of them didn't feature in the dialogue at all. It was just enjoyable, 'makes your heart fuzzy' kind of writing - beautiful.
A few of my favourites
"She looked like art, and art wasn't supposed to look nice. It was supposed to make you feel something."
"Holding Eleanor's hand was like holding a heartbeat. Like something complete and completely alive."
"The first time he'd held her hand, it felt so good that it crowded out all the bad things. It felt better than anything had ever hurt."
This is clearly the author talking, and for once it works. Having an element of distance from the characters meant the author could manipulate them and the reader to take in every word.
In wasn't in a sense, the characters telling the story - even though it was their story. It was a mature way of relaying the plot and handled some of the darker themes sensitively. Some phrases were worthy of being framed.
This is not to say the characters were a weakness; in no way were they drowned by Rowell's poetic flair. Eleanor's loud, 'thrown together' exterior contrasted well with her sensitive, 'seeking safety' interior. She's clearly vulnerable and I think that's something alot of people can relate to. Park is her perfect match - initially innocent but with a real bite when he wants to. He knows taekwondo and isn't afraid to use it. He's not the typical shy boy, but he is the model '80's kid, who's iPod wouldn't be complete without The Smiths. These two definitely aren't all you see at face value, there's alot more to them and their relationship. The reader deserves to dig deeper and discover their secrets, meaning the element of mystery works especially well.
Although there were lots of things I enjoyed about Eleanor and Park, it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows unfortunately - even though there weren't huge issues. Remember the 'negative' side of 'realism' I mentioned earlier? That being originality that I addressed in an earlier post. The 80's culture running through the veins of this book reminded me very much of Stephen Chbosky's 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower.' Since reading (and loving) that, I've noticed a number of titles set in this period. Maybe this is why the cliches jumped out at me easily. While I have no issues with this kind of culture there were some common trends to note: anything from the indie mix tapes or comic books. There was also the wonderful 'there's only one seat left on the bus for the new kid' stereo type we've met so many times before. That one I was able to overlook as it's vital to the plot, and the details did make the story more authentic. Nevertheless, this was an element I just didn't find original. Sorry Ms Rowell.
Overall, Eleanor and Park gave me a mainly positive but mixed bag of comments.
In summary: A poetic but not perfect coming of age, Eleanor and Park evokes thoughts of first love, loss and everything in between. Not without cliches, but still a very enjoyable read for an older audience. 4 stars.