Eleanor & Park: Cringe-Worthy or Romantic Love Story? – Book Review

Throwback Writings: This post was written in February 2020. It is being republished as part of the move over from my old site to the new (which is here, welcome!)

Book: Eleanor & Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
First Published: April 12th 2012
Goodreads Reading Challenge 2020 – Book 3/17
Dymock’s Reading Challenge 2020 – Prompt: Re-read your favourite book of all time

Let’s have a look at Eleanor & Park and answer the question: is it cringe worthy or a romantic love story?

Eleanor & Park is a heart wrenching story of two teens not fitting in and finding first love. I say this with the best intention possible but even the moments that could be deemed as cringe-worthy (see: Eleanor talking about wanting to eat Parks face) made me think, “Ah, that’s teenagers for ya,” rather than, “Ugh, that’s a bit much don’t you think?”

Eleanor has just moved back in with her mum after being kicked out a year earlier by her vile step-father, Richie. Since she left, her mother and siblings moved in with Richie in an area referred to as, “The Flats.”

Eleanor is very cynical and comes across as quite angry throughout the book. On the one hand this is completely understandable and you can sympathize with her. Her narrative is very, “I got the short straw of life,” and yeah, in many senses she did. Being kicked out and not seeing your mother or siblings for a year, having your once lively mother completely submit to an abusively, controlling relationship, and a biological father that isn’t in the picture and has no plan on changing that, that’s all horrible. But Eleanor has the kind of angry that seems to leech onto even the good in her life. I just wanted to shake her and tell her to stop taking everything out on Park. The kid was doing his best!

Then there’s Park. Park’s lived in The Flats his entire life, and has what is described in the book as The Perfect Suburban Family. Two parents still together and madly in love, two kids, lives right next door to his grandparents where they all go for Sunday dinners. Park’s life has been somewhat defined by his being noticeably half-Korean (whereas his brother Josh takes after their all american father), and not feeling like he lives up to his dad’s expectations.

I loved both the character’s Rainbow Rowell created, but I loved them a little less together. In 2015 after first reading the book I wrote on Goodreads that while I loved it I didn’t love the coupling and thought it was cringey, too much and unrealistic. Keep in mind I was 17 and had never had even an inkling of a relationship.

My thing about them together: They went from only sitting together on the bus because they felt they had no other choice, to, “This is true love, it was meant to be, we will be forever.”

Park’s first impression of Eleanor was that she was weird looking, and then he later goes on to describe her as art, thinking of how absolutely mesmerizing she looks every time he sees her.

Eleanor didn’t seem to have much interest in Park and then suddenly jumped from 0 to 100 headfirst into non stop talk on wanting to bite him and eat his face. Which now as a 22 year old just makes me internally smile and think, “Yep, that’s the dramatic of teenagers for you,” but when I was younger (and probably in a few more years time) I just found it to be too much. It’s not entirely cute and sigh-worthy to talk about biting someone’s face constantly. Maybe that’s just me though.

Rowell choosing to tell the story from both perspectives was a smart move in my opinion, especially when it would switch perspectives during a scene. Eleanor would be worrying about what Park was thinking, worrying it was a negative view of her, then switch to Park thinking as though the sun, and every planet in the universe should revolve around her, and vise versa. It created great points of tension for me as the reader being in both of their minds at once, knowing that so many of their problems could be solved if they simply just talked to each other more openly.

Like I said, their individual plot lines was were the story really came alive for me, especially Eleanor’s. My favourite part of reading this book was actually reading about Eleanor’s dysfunctional family life. Maybe that’s coming from someone with their own share of family dysfunction, but it was the plot I felt most connected to.

Park on the other hand I had more trouble connecting with. I really wish it went a bit more into the history of him feeling like he’ll never be good enough for his dad, his life growing up in the flats, the beginning of his love for music, but his story seemed to focus more on his infatuation of Eleanor than anything else. Makes sense given that’s what the whole book centered around, but Eleanor seemed to have much more page time when it came to home life and back story.

Rainbow Rowell does seem to have a way of getting into a teenagers head and writes how they would think/talk wonderfully. I also like how she bought many important issues into light, weaving them throughout a teenage love story, making you ponder heavy topics but never for long enough for it to get too depressing because bam now we’re back to the love lives of teenagers.

All in all I love the trope of finding love and having that to cling to despite feeling like your whole life is falling apart around you, and I do hope in their little fictional world that Eleanor and Park wind up together and forever blissfully happy once the books over. It is a little cringe worthy, but that’s teen love for you.

As a passionate music lover I greatly appreciated the tape and music being a central motif to the plot, and I gotta say, Miss Rowell has good taste in music. Anyone who recognizes the greatness of The Smiths in an 80’s set novel has a vote from me.

Despite feeling like I’ve heavily critiqued the parts of the book I don’t like (scraping to find negatives in the first place) I do absolutely love the book overall, and I say that confidently this being my second read of it and knowing how much it stuck with me after the first read five years ago.

I rated it 4 stars upon first read, 5 after my second. So overall I’m going to have to give it a near perfect 4.5/5 stars. I highly recommend giving it a go if you haven’t already. Like, seriously, what’s taking you so long???

If you do decide to pick it up be sure to check out my reading playlist featuring my top 10 songs to listen to while reading Eleanor & Park!

If you’ve read the book, in the comments below, answer this for me:

Eleanor & Park: Cringe-Worthy or Romantic Love Story?

I don’t think there’s any reason why it can’t be both.

Happy reading everyone! x

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