To be honest, I normally don't read a lot of Young Adult novels but after hearing so many good reviews about this one, and Rainbow Rowell in general, I decided to give it a shot. I couldn't put it down and I can't wait to share my review of this book with you guys today!
Eleanor & Park
By Rainbow Rowell
I'm not one to sit and enjoy reading sappy love stories. Call me unromantic but that's just not who I am. And while I enjoyed YA books when I was a teenager, most of the things teenagers do and say annoy me now that I'm a cranky twenty-something. When my friend recommended this book, I was immediately turned off by the teenage puppy love angle but after her insistence, I picked up a copy and gave it a read.
It was delightful!
Rainbow Rowell paints a picture of two high school kids who don't quite fit in. Eleanor Douglas is a fiery redhead who is picked on for her weight, her hair, and her clothes. Park Sheridan is a half-Korean-half-white kid in suburban Omaha. They meet on the bus to school and while their initial meeting is rocky, they fall in love through their mutual love for comic books and music. I think most of us can find that relatable but Rowell ups the ante by introducing complicated themes as body image, and bullying - themes I think anyone who's been a teenager is all too familiar with.
Of all the issues discussed in the novel, two of them hit home with me the most; body shaming and race. Eleanor is a "big" girl who's always comparing herself to her mother's adult beauty. She doesn't fit in because she's overweight, she wears weird clothes, she comes from a damaged home with an abusive stepfather, and she is socially awkward. While I've never been overweight, I think many girls have had body image issues at some point in their life and the way she describes how she feels about her body - how she tries to make herself smaller by not speaking, how she carries on with a brave face despite the sexual harassment she deals with at school, how she always has that little voice in her head that she's not good enough. I've been there. That may be why the line by Park meant so much to me when I read it: "Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn't supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something."
I'm ethnically Korean myself so Park's perception of how a Korean is "feminine" and "weak" was really interesting to me. I obviously can't speak for men but I do think that there is a weird stereotype that Asian men aren't "masculine" enough which is unfair. Park is constantly comparing himself to his younger brother who inherited more Caucasian physical features and believes his father secretly thinks he is "a pussy." He also mentions that there aren't many cool Asian role models which really goes back to my point I made about a lack of diversity in Hollywood.
The best part of this novel isn't even the love story but the way Rowell writes about their relationship through music! She even has a Spotify Playlist with all the awesome 80s music she mentions in her book!
All in all, I highly recommend this book to other YA snobs like me - Rowell clearly remembers what it's like to be a teenager as she manages to capture the rough edges, the awkwardness, the uncertainties and the contradictions. It'll make you remember what it was like to be a kid in love again.