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!