One extraordinary love.
Eleanor… Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough…Eleanor.
Park… He knows she’ll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There’s a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises…Park.
Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.
This is a difficult review to write. I have considered not even posting it because my feelings are SO mixed about this book. I had heard nothing but rave reviews before I picked it up and was SO excited to read it. And then I did & I was surprised I hadn’t heard more negative commentary on the racist comments & ethnic stereotypes that are littered throughout the narrative. It was only after finishing that I discovered a whole underbelly of outraged bibliophiles utterly DESTROYING Rainbow Rowell’s work.
*Teeny tiny spoilers ahead* – it’s unavoidable with this book
Let’s cut to the chase. Eleanor is an incredibly ignorant and egocentric human being, plain and simple. I like to think Rainbow Rowell wrote her that way on purpose, as part of her character development. Maybe she’s not meant to be super likeable. I sure didn’t like her that much. I was rooting for her, but I didn’t like her. And I definitely don’t get all the people calling her a champion for body image. She hates her body. Even when Park shows how much he loves it, she still hates the way she looks and is constantly convinced that the people around her are judging her for it. She’s also pretty racist without intentionally being racist. She’s not the intolerant type of racist, just the ignorant kind. The kind that is constantly applying racial stereotypes in her observations of people. The kind who takes a person’s ethnicity into account when applying opinions to that person.
I don’t blame Eleanor for the way she is. I don’t hate her for it. Sure, it’s frustrating to “listen” to her talk sometimes and I want to smack her upside the head, but I mostly just pity her for her ignorance. She has such limited life experience, and the experiences she HAS been through and dealt with have impeded her ability to form a social conscience or really any social skills at all. I would have hoped that she could have learned something from all the books she supposedly reads, but maybe that’s just too much to ask from this character.
Park is equally ignorant and nearly intolerably self-loathing. He wishes he were whiter-looking, like his brother. His dad calls him a pussy, which, he honestly believes. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy of the worst kind. He also applies racial stereotypes, particularly when observing his own mother (HIS OWN MOTHER!) – accentuating her Korean accent and even once commenting on her driving habits. I feel like he starts to redeem himself towards the end of the book when he becomes more comfortable in his own skin – maybe if there were a sequel I would start to like both characters a little more.
NOW. All that said, I still really enjoyed the PLOT of this book. Eleanor’s family dynamic & home situation added an interesting layer to the character and felt incredibly real (coming from someone who has never experienced a similar home life, and will not pretend to understand what that is REALLY like). The conflicts between Eleanor, Park, and their friends/peers at school were well-played and significantly added to the drama of the narrative.
Ultimately, this book is a love story. A story about two self-loathing misfits who [begin to] learn to love themselves by loving each other. By being seen as worthwhile through the eyes of another person, they begin to find the worth in themselves. It’s a little co-dependent, but still really sweet. And I enjoyed all the alone time & candidness between the characters. The character growth throughout the story is remarkable, and by the end I did feel like neither character was thinking about weight or race and was just seeing the other as an individual, unique person. A person they would do anything for. It was a genuine love story (ignoring peripheral story arcs, of course) that embodied the kind of end-all relationship a 16-year-old might have and I am glad to have read it.
Until Next Time ❤