The BOOK-RUINING SPOILERS version.
Title: Eleanor and Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell, Pisces
Air’s Rating: 5/5 because I need to pay homage to Rowell’s skill and portrayals
Description: Set in the 1980’s. A fat teenage girl with a home life you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy falls in love. A Korean teenage boy with wise ideas about gender falls in love with her right back.
Air’s SPOILERY Review:
I. Abuse/Bullying/Domesic Violence
While most people tend to regard this as being a story of “first love”, I disagree. I think that above all else this is a story about abuse, bullying, domestic violence, and low socioeconomic turmoil. This is a story of survival and fear. The abuse in this novel was written so realistically that I felt extremely uncomfortable for me to read it. I imagine that it must be very triggering for abuse victims to read.
II. Different Realities and Love, Not “First Love”
I also think that one of the best and most life-altering things about this book is how much Eleanor’s home life differed from Park’s. While I love the way that Rowell wrote this and how she finished, I expected the ending to be darker and more cruel. I had thought that the ending would show how little Park could ever understand or connect with Eleanor. But it seems that Rowell gave more credit to love (which is why I get upset whenever anyone remarks this as a book about “first love”, since who of us has ever experienced a first love as strong as this?) Upon contemplation, I think that Rowell’s ending was very positive and hopeful. She was able to portray a truly happy ending in the midst of a very common and dark situation. I consider myself to be a very positive and hopeful person, and yet I really expected things to end badly. I’m happy that they did not.
III. Fat Representation
Most importantly, however, Rowell’s positive and realistic portrayal of a fat girl who is both bullied and a healthy combination of loved and respectfully lusted after is life-altering. I hate that Rowell’s incredible depiction of a fat girl is in a book as upsetting to read as this, because I would want everyone to know about Eleanor and see how Rowell wrote her, but I don’t want to recommend this book to anyone because of the triggering parts of it. But, yes, Rowell has proven herself to me to be a master of realistic and healthy human portrayal, and her positive representation of a fat teenager is going to change the lives of many. It was a truly healing part of this book for me, as a fat woman myself, especially reading through Park’s chapters in which he did not fetishize Eleanor, but did not ignore the reality of her body, while still lusting after her full of love and respect.
Lastly, to cut this as short as possible (because I could really go on), what Rowell did with Park’s character and breaking gender norms and normalizing his healthy but frowned upon by society behaviors is going to really help a lot of teenagers who read it. In general, I think this is an incredible book for teenagers to read, not because it is at that level, but because it is positive and life-altering (albeit very triggering).
Air’s 2014 Book Goal: 31/125 books!