11 December 2017

[Review] just ELEANOR (and PARK?)

My rating: ⭐⭐1/2
—Tell us, why has Romeo and Juliet survived four hundred years?
—Because people want to remember what it's like to be young? And in love?
(p. 45)

Omaha, 1986.

ELEANOR came back after being kicked outta house for a year by her step-dad. She is white, big, with red bushy hair and bizzare fashion style. But somehow she just wanted the world ignored her existence, but how it could be with that striking appearance? Her family was dreadful: an abusive-alcoholic step-dad, a submissive mom, and four little siblings, all were packed in a tiny house, so tiny that Eleanor had to share a small room with all her siblings.

PARK was Korean-American, a quiet boy who always sat alone in the school bus reading comics and listening to the music. He came from well-off family, and he had an insecurity about his "stereotypical" beautiful Korean boy appearance which he inherited from her mom, if compared to his brother Josh's macho appearance. Thanks to his family background, his friends had never really bully him (which was still odd, though).

THE TWO met in the bus, and from the first time when Park gave the seat beside him to Eleanor, they gradually became closer and closer. But the world didn't want them to be together.
While I found many positive reviews on Goodreads (FYI, its rating is 4+), I just couldn't connect to this YA romance story. Why, why? Anything’s wrong with me?!

FIRST, the characters.

The two flawed characters are realistic indeed, but it's unforgivable that Rowell reduced Park to only became a "stupid Asian kid" whose face Eleanor always wanted to eat (seriously, eat? And yeah, she reminded me too often that he was Asian—why not Asian-American then?). Despite of the reality that Park shared the title together with Eleanor and this story was told from their point of views alternately, this story is about Eleanor. Yeah, Eleanor. Whereas Park, with his half-Asian identity, he must've experienced many insecurities living in Omaha (you know, since 19th century, even up to 21st century, thiscity had been racist) and went to very "white" school. But, while I saw Eleanor's character development, I know almost nothing about Park’s. Rowell also seems to exaggerating in making Eleanor's life so miserable so that the reader sympathizes with her.

SECOND, the racial issues, historical & cultural background.

Some reviews called this book "racist" (the author of this Tumblr post picked to pieces the “racism” found in this book) and written without sufficient research on historical background and Korean culture. (This review by Laura of Clear Eyes Full Shelves says much about this issue. And maybe you wanna know an opinion of Eunnie Lee, a Korean reader about this book.) There were racial tensions throughout the 19th-20th century and even up to now in Omaha. (FYI, Rowell grew up in this city.) But, this story told me that Park (the only one half--Korean in the neighborhood) and the two black girls, “friends" (I couldn't call it friendship though) of Eleanor lived such more peaceful life compared to Eleanor's (she was white, you remember?). And about Korean culture... well, one of the most visible mistakes is how could Park's mom gave him a Korean last name as his first name? “Park” is a family name after all. Together with “Kim” and “Lee”, they make the three most often used family names in South Korea. (But, there was always a possibility that Rowell did this on purpose.) Look, I didn’t do K-Pop boy bands fan-girling and watching reality shows and Korean drama series without learning anything “cultural”.

THIRD, the plot.

So boring. But the ending isn't cliche, thanks God, although I wasn't satisfied since I hope that Rowell told more about what happened to Eleanor’s mom and siblings, rather than her mere anxiety.
Actually I love how Rowell created analogies which aren't cliches yet make sense, and humorous lines which sometimes made me chuckle. For example:
Thinking about going out with Park, in public, was kind of like thinking about taking your helmet off in space. (p. 173)
Because being assaulted with maxi pads is a great way to win friends and influence people. (p. 61)
And also the much-pop-culture references (music, comics, books). Although I didn't know much of them. Meanwhile, about the romance, some of the readers found it unbelievable because Park went from shouting to Eleanor at the first time she got into the bus to a kind of no-words-communication, to a deep romance in which they “can’t live without each other” too fast that it turned out to be silly rather than romantic. But I didn’t really think so. It wasn’t too fast for them to be in that kind of romantic relationship. I saw they gradually became closer and closer little by little. At first Park shouted to Eleanor, then give the seat beside him to her, then Eleanor peeked at the comics Park read in the bus every day. And then Park lent his comics to her, then they began to share music. All of those, at first, were done almost without they said something to each other. So, yeah, Rowell made every effort so that they could be in that degree of relationship. But I didn’t deny that their relationship seemed to me more likely to be a friendship rather than romantic one.

I started reading this with high expectation but it didn't turn out well. So, yeah, 2.5 out of 5 rating for this novel. And I didn’t feel any heartbreak in reading this.
“Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn't supposed to look nice, form it was supposed to make you feel something.”
book identity
Title: Eleanor & Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Number of pages: 328
Publishing date: October 2013 (International Edition)
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
ISBN: 978-1-250-05399-2 (International Edition)
Price: IDR 145,000 (Books and Beyond)

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