Eleanor & Park – not spoiler safe

When I mentioned I was listening to the audiobook of Eleanor and Park, a couple people wanted to know what I thought. I finished it tonight, so here are a few notes:

There is almost no emotional distance from the characters. The writing is so close-up that there doesn’t seem to be a point to trying to keep perspective. (This was also true in Fangirl, but it’s even more noticeable here where the characters are in high school instead of college.) I didn’t feel much support from the book for thoughts like, “What would Eleanor’s chances be with Child Protective Services in this time and place?” or “How is the omnipresent racism affecting Park and his family?” No, this book’s strength is its no-distance rush of feelings and romance. Very teenage, heart through a strainer, experiencing it all for the first time and can’t believe it’s happening!1!!1!

Given this, I would be okay with enjoying a runaway heated wish-fulfillment romance…except, it is Eleanor’s romance and book and transformation, but is presented as though it’s supposed to be Park’s too. The point of view alternates between Eleanor and Park, about 50/50. But Park’s family problems are piddly compared to Eleanor’s– arguing with his dad over eyeliner and driving a stick shift, big whoop. He just doesn’t have high stakes like she does, and mostly goes around being kind, cute, stable, and righteous. He has a few moments where he breaks out of being too good to be true– when he asks whether maybe Eleanor wrote horrible comments on her own books for some reason, and when he irrationally has hurt feelings about her falling asleep in the truck on their way to Uncle Deus Ex Machina– but he gets over these quickly and spontaneously, and goes back to Being There For Eleanor.

There’s something creepy about the story being presented as half Park’s, when the real story and point of view aren’t his– like the book is making him into a puppet. Eleanor’s racism and the book’s racism are continuous, because Eleanor’s viewpoint is the only one that’s really solid. So many embarrassing comparisons of food and skin color. The pair of Sassy Black Friends who seem to exist only in the gym and lunchroom are an example of racist stereotypes in the book itself, not just in the minds of the characters. So while Rowell is very talented at All The Feels, I wouldn’t recommend this book without caveats.

In the audio version, the reader for Park’s point of view reads Park’s mother with an accent that I found over the top, and reads Eleanor’s dialogue in a high, breathy, tentative voice that would have gotten on my nerves so fast if she really spoke like that. I liked the reader for Eleanor’s point of view.

I’d love to hear what you thought!

from yesterday’s four-minute diary

yesterday, Sunday:

  • Sunny and windy. I took myself for a walk around the neighborhood, because I get cabin fever if I don’t do a couple of miles. I wanted to listen to my current audiobook, Eleanor and Park, but when I walked into the wind it whistled in my ears, even with earband plus hat, and I couldn’t hear the narration at all. I’d turn around a walk a block or two with the wind at my back, listening just fine, and then try to sneak east again between gusts.
  • Sang and Evan had cleaned up the turkey carcass Thursday and plunked it into the big stockpot, where it simmered ever since. Midafternoon I turned the heat off so we could finish straining and freezing the stock in the evening…but then it was evening and we just turned the burner on again. Sang finally dealt with it tonight. That is some nice roasty concentrated stock there in the freezer.

currently reading: My Own Country, by Abraham Verghese. He’s one of the doctor/writers that Atul Gawande listed as inspiring his own writing career, and this memoir is about treating AIDS patients in small-town Tennessee in the late 1980s. I like it so far. I would have thought some of his wide-eyed straight-person reportage on gay culture would grate (his nervous first visit to the only local gay bar), but it doesn’t.

2013 Books

These are the books I’ll be adding to my Librarything collection this year, along with the description I jotted down for each one when I put it on my running list of books read. They’ll bring the collection to 99 books I love–although more are represented, because I let one book stand for a series and sometimes for a whole author.

  • Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, by Jesse Andrews. Profane, funny book about kids making bad films, having inappropriate thoughts, and having different connections with each other than the adults think they do. Love Earl’s black-Pittsburgh language.
  • Winterbound, by Margery Bianco. 1936 novel of siblings navigating a country winter in New England. By the author of The Velveteen Rabbit, incidentally. Not much happens, but I liked the characters and the details of day-to-day life.
  • A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Ridiculous yet addictive. Oh, Sara Crewe!
  • Charlotte Sometimes, by Penelope Farmer. 1969 novel of a girl at boarding school who wakes up as another girl in 1918, and they switch each night. A time-travel story that raises questions about identity and whether the people around you see the “real you.”
  • Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell. Cath and her twin are both freshmen at UN Lincoln; she’s the shy, anxious one and is also semi-secretly a top fanfic author. Romance, friendship, and family drama ensue. (Note: I only just finished this before the end of the year. Curious to see if it stays prominent in my memory or fades.)
  • The Gentrification of the Mind, by Sarah Schulman. The interrelation of the AIDS epidemic and its fallout with the gentrification of New York City, followed by ruminations on what has been displaced, forgotten, and lost in gay culture and politics. Outstanding, with personal stories about her choices as a teacher and her interactions with Kathy Acker and other icons.
  • Among Others, by Jo Walton. A Welsh girl goes to English boarding school after her twin dies in an auto wreck. The fairies she knew in Wales, are they real or part of her psyche? Many SF and fantasy book shout-outs.
  • The Lake, by Banana Yoshimoto, trans. Michael Emmerich. An art student in Tokyo falls for her neighbor, but he has heavy secrets in his past. Liked the even-toned writing style and subtle emotions; my opinion kept flip-flopping on whether this romance was advisable or not.

What my LibraryThing additions don’t reflect is that this was a wonderful year for rereading. Lots of Mary Stoltz. The Ramona books plus Henry and Beezus and Henry Huggins. His Dark Materials. Zahrah the Windseeker. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For.

Also, I combined picture books, poetry, comics, and graphic novels into one category, 22 books (including rereads), yet no new Librarything additions are in that category.