Star-Crossed Lovers in a Senseless Society
This quote comes from Rainbow Rowell’s book Eleanor and Park, a romance novel revolving around a sarcastic, red-haired girl and an introverted half-Korean boy. At the beginning, the chemistry between these two misfits is very sweet, and I enjoyed every breath of it. However, the book goes downhill when the lovers become serious with their relationship, especially since the story takes place over a year. Many flaws in this book have confirmed that this novel wasn’t my favorite, but it was definitely unlike anything I’ve ever read before.
The biggest and most disconcerting obstacle in Eleanor and Park was its constant use of profanity. Upon reading the first five pages, I found about twelve nasty words scribbled hastily in dialogue before flipping to the next chapter. Though the setting takes place primarily in a high school in the 1980’s, I feel like the author is making an unfortunate excuse to press her anger into each of the pages, screaming the f-word repetitively through her characters’ thoughts. She may think that it seems more realistic this way, but personally I think it makes the characters less enjoyable to be around. Therefore the vulgar language was completely superfluous, and I think that this book would have been more satisfying if it weren’t for the author being as tempered as a toddler, flicking the f-word all over the place.
Another flaw that made me uncomfortable was the author’s tendency to be racist towards Asians. Park is part of one of the only Asian families in his neighborhood, making him a minor target for being different from the rest. I agree that racism is still a problem in today’s world, and I understand that Rowell wants to address this problem to her audience. But rather than resolving the situation herself, she simply mocks the Asian accent and expresses feelings that should have stuck to her rough draft. Her constant reminder of Park’s mom pronouncing Eleanor’s name as “El-la-no” frustrates me, as if she didn’t need to remind me twenty times to get the gist of how differently Park’s mom spoke from the rest. Also, at the start and end of the book, Eleanor regards Park as a “stupid Asian kid”. Whether Rowell means this and her other open thoughts playfully or seriously, it doesn’t improve the plot any further from its original state.
Thirdly, the book had a few plot holes that I was really unsatisfied with. What happened to Eleanor’s family after Eleanor ran away? Richie is the only one who seems to live in the house after the incident, and there are no signs of Eleanor’s siblings or her mom after the fight. I was anxious to know where they had gone, or if they had met Eleanor in the future, but unfortunately I was never given the answer to what will forever be a vague ending. Also, if Richie wrote vulgar insults in Eleanor’s books, how did he get to her locker in the first place? Eleanor told Park that the insults appeared after her Gym class, and it seems very unlikely that Richie would suddenly barge into the school and somehow locate the girls’ locker room deliberately. How did Richie get in and cram Eleanor’s new clothes in the toilet? Since he is Eleanor’s stepdad, it makes completely no sense and desperately needs a logical revision.
The main idea of romance captivated me early into the story, but as the plot progressed, there seemed to be something off about it that made me change my mind. The timing was unreasonably hastened, and even though Park is awkward, wouldn’t he have chosen a more appropriate time to confess his love for Eleanor? At the time their relationship was only starting to bloom, and I believe that Park went a little overboard. The author may attempt to sound realistic in this aspect of the story as well, but I think that it would have been more reasonable if Park was a little more careful about what he said, since this is after all his “first love”.
In addition, there were many imbalances in the story. Sloppy, disproportioned transitions between Park and Eleanor were made frequently throughout the story, and it was hard to keep up since some viewpoints lasted 3 pages and others lasted a few sentences. The author tries too hard to sound simple, because it makes readers juggle a deep pile of thoughts and fluctuating perspectives. Although Eleanor and Park had a steady relationship throughout the book, it saddened me to see that Eleanor never truly admitted that she loved Park, because Park had told her multiple times that he loved her to soothe her insecurities.
Lastly, the parents of both families failed to be good role models in the story. All of the fathers in the story either use vulgar language, drink, or provide too much freedom excessively. The mothers are calmer and wiser, but there are no major spotlights for them in the book other than restricting the lovers from doing what they want. An example of unreasonable parenting is Park’s dad. He allows Park to drive Eleanor to Minnesota in the middle of the night, but he restricts Park from wearing eyeliner? Park’s dad probably wanted to prevent Park from wearing eyeliner to avoid attention at school, but if Park’s dad provides that much freedom for Park and his girlfriend, then he should definitely be more easygoing about something as simple as eyeliner.
In spite of all of the book’s imperfections, only a few portions have truly contented me. The plot, despite its adult-like tone, was engrossing, and I had finished this book over two days’ time. Some peaks in the story included the semi-creative flirting between Eleanor and Park, but clichés such as “I can’t live without you,” and “I can’t breathe without you,” were little things that made me cringe. However, the fact that they avoided the “it’s not good-bye” cliché was unexpectedly impressive. The most stunning part overall was that this book captured real-life situations that people are still facing today, like family pressure and bullying, overlapping the romance just before it became too boring and mushy to handle.