Diane's Reviews > Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
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did not like it
bookshelves: young-adult

I need to state right away that YA is not one of my favorite genres: I hated the Twilight books, I'm not a fan of paranormal romance and I've been avoiding the flood of YA dystopian novels. I want this to be clear because if you like YA, than my negative reaction maybe won't apply to you. You may love this book, as many others already have.

I wanted to read this novel because it received several glowing reviews and it was being compared to John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, which I really liked. Eleanor & Park is set in a high school in Omaha in 1986. The titular characters are teenagers who meet on the school bus -- Eleanor dresses weird and is new at the school; Park is biracial and tries to keep his head down so he won't get picked on. The two bond over comic books and music and fall into puppy love.

My main complaint is that Rowell tried putting 10 pounds of plot into a 5-pound bag. As if the outsiders-fall-in-love story wasn't enough, she gave Eleanor a hellish home life: her stepfather is abusive, neglectful and had previously kicked her out of the house for standing up to him. Meanwhile, Park, whose father is white and his mother is Korean, feels like a "pussy" compared to his ex-military dad, who yells at him a lot. Much of this family stuff didn't ring true to me and it felt so forced that I had to do a lot of skimming to survive the home scenes. Of course, I also had to skim a lot of the school scenes because the dialogue of the teens felt so contrived.

And then there are all the retro pop culture references -- never for a page does Rowell let you forget that the story is set in 1986. OK, OK, we get it already.

But what really made me want to heave this book across the room was the ping-pong writing style. Rowell wrote very short sections, bouncing back and forth and back and forth between Eleanor and Park's point of view. It is the perfect example of how limited the modern attention span is that writers think the only way a young person will read something is if it's in short posts.

I think Eleanor & Park was trying to do too much and ended up being bad at all of it. There are so many other books that do all of these elements better. For young love, I really liked John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. For 1980s references that aren't overdone, I liked Carol Rifka Brunt's Tell the Wolves I'm Home. For dysfunctional family, try Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle.

As for me, this book may have scared me away from YA for awhile. I'm sticking with adult books, because I'm an adult who is getting grouchy about losing precious reading time on mediocre stories.
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Reading Progress

May 22, 2013 – Shelved
August 8, 2013 – Started Reading
August 8, 2013 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-29 of 29 (29 new)

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message 1: by Ken (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ken Uh-oh. I actually ordered this book for school (based on glowing reviews) last week. I'll let you know if the kids agree (that is, if they bother reading it, and they don't always pick new books up).

message 2: by Diane (last edited Aug 08, 2013 04:21PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Diane @Newengland, if you ordered it for kids, they'll probably like it. I'm nearing 40 and have just lost patience for YA. I also requested it based on the glowing reviews and the comparison to Fault in Our Stars. So I feel gypped!

message 3: by Ken (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ken Well, matching TFIOS is a tough order, admittedly. I'll try to read this in the next 2 weeks, but I have 6 books I intended to finish before school and it's not looking good (unless I just read and do little else).

Jessica Jeffers I loved the book, but I totally get what you're saying. It's very, very YA and if you have no patience for the genre then, yeah, it's not going to work. Good review!

Diane Jessica, your review of it was GREAT and it's one of the reasons I picked it up. I really wanted to like this book!

Jessica Jeffers Aw, I feel bad for having steered you wrong! :) Eh, I figure I can continue reading teen lit until I'm 30 without growing weart so I've got just a few more months to go!

Diane Don't feel bad! We all react to books differently. That's why I put the disclaimer about YA at the top -- it's such a popular genre, and I'm probably being too critical of a teenage love story.

Jessica Jeffers I don't think you're too critical at all! I do remember thinking how easy it would be for some to come down on your side of things. This one just struck a personal chord with me.

message 9: by Caroline (last edited Aug 08, 2013 11:50PM) (new)

Caroline What a wonderfully original review!

My main complaint is that Rowell tried putting 10 pounds of plot into a 5-pound bag.


But what really made me want to heave this book across the room was the ping-pong writing style

and lots of other delights! What a wonderful read :-)

message 10: by Lynne (new)

Lynne King I agree with Caroline, Diane. An excellent critical review.

Allie I love YA and also loved The Fault in Our Stars. But I think I'll avoid this one after reading your review.

message 12: by Diane (new) - rated it 1 star

Diane Allie, I almost wish you could read E & P so I could see your reaction.

Katty I actually thought the backgrounds of Eleanor and Park was one of the book's strengths. To me it made both of them more believable and interesting because we got to understand them better through knowing their home lives and not just a glossy high school version (as is the case for many YA books). In both cases their issues at home also felt authentic without being over the top.

As for the writing, I'd have to look over it again to really give a definite opinion. But based on what I recall, I appreciated the short, simplistic sentences. Not because I have a short attention span but because long-winded, overly descriptive writing is common in many young adult books (see Twilight) and gets tedious quickly. As for the 80s references, I agree that they were a little much sometimes, although I did enjoy the details they added to the book.

Since you're a TFIOS fan, I'm a little surprised you don't like this one as well since they both handle the concept of not being able to be with a person you love. Of course both books write this differently but the emotions felt a bit similar. To me Eleanor and Park actually surpasses TFIOS just a little (which is saying something because I adore John Green and everything that he writes). Admittedly, I always get a little irked when I see a one star review of a book I fell in love with, but I actually appreciate your review. You brought up some good points about why you didn’t like it without being overly snarky. Nicely done.

Katty Egads. That comment got a bit long-winded. Sorry about that.

Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship I agree about the 80s pop culture references being over-the-top and about Tell the Wolves I'm Home as doing a better job of being clearly set in the 80s without overdoing it.

message 16: by C (new) - rated it 5 stars

C For me, the home scenes rang too close to the truth for comfort. I lived something very similar in my childhood as the youngest child - it took me back in time in a very uncomfortable way. The father/son relationship could have easily been my high school/college boyfriend and his vietnam vet dad - though theirs was considerably more dysfunctional and less loving than Park's. Same with the high school scenes. I am glad for your experience, though, that such things would not ring true!

Marianne I accidentally downloaded the audiobook instead of the book, and I think it turned out to be a good thing. I normally hate audiobooks. The audio made the back & forth between the narration much more easily understood & less harsh or choppy. It was like a real conversation between the 2 characters. I actually gave the book 5 stars because the teenage angst really rang true to me.

message 18: by Hala (new) - added it

Hala Alnahas I like your review , really nicely done !
Thank you :)

Jillian Valdez I totally agree.

message 20: by Dena (new) - rated it 2 stars

Dena Yes! I have also sworn off YA after this!

Cynthia Bleskachek Thanks for your review! We just read this for book club and everybody adored it, but I can totally appreciate the points you make. There aren't many negative reviews for this book and most are based on content (it was recently the subject of book banning campaign at a nearby high school, hence our interest in reading it . . . ) so I was very pleased to see that your criticisms were with writing style, structure and character development. Yay! I don't agree, but YAY!

Emily Bess This was the perfect review, as a young adult I would have loved it. As an adult, it felt totally like a young adult novel. I am a high school teacher so I like to read the books I suggest for my kids. I think they will like it where I didn't.

message 23: by Jen (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jen Birenbaum I love the "ping pong" style of narrative. It makes it so much cooler to see both perspectives of the story.

Hannah I totally get where you are coming from for some of your reasons about not liking the book. While I do love YA, I did not enjoy this book, and talked of all my reasons in my own review. I think I enjoyed it slightly more then you did, up until the ending where everything that seemed like it had been building up, was pretty much shot down. As I said in my own comment, I was not overwhelmed by this book at all. It just was a story.

message 25: by John (new) - rated it 1 star

John Rosati We'll done. I'm not sure why I spent a lot of time reading this book, when 30% of the way in, I couldn't wait to finish it so I can tell people I didn't like it. But you worded it very well, though I like some young adult books, as long as the written well, this one wasn't an example.

Allie I love YA, and I didn't dislike this book as much as you did, but I was completely underwhelmed. My feeling was pretty much "meh." It kept my attention enough that I happily finished it, but I was happy for it to be done. You make some great points, especially about the dialogue and the pop culture references.

message 27: by Debbie "DJ" (new)

Debbie "DJ" Excellent review Diane! I'm the one person who hasn't read this yet, and kinda glad I haven't. As Caroline said...loved your 10 lbs. of plot into a 5 lb. bag. Nice to read a YA once in awhile, but prefer "age appropriate" books, lol!

Debbie Nice review. I didn't like it much either. Just reread my review and though I gave it a 3 and found a couple of quotes I liked, I bitched about it a whole lot. Probably was more like a 2.8 for me. It was so boring. Bluck. What a disappointment.

message 29: by Courtney (new) - added it

Courtney I agree with your review. I stopped 50% into it because it was kind of insufferable to read.

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