My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Initial reaction: I think this book was as good as it was in terms of my reading experience because of the audiobook. I liked that part of it, but I’m a little torn on my experience of the story. Parts of it I really liked and I thought it was well written, but…there are some issues that bugged me through the read. Might be an even 3 stars overall.
Eleanor and Park was a young adult realistic romance with its heart in the right place, I have to admit. As long as I’m singing praises to it, it drew me into the story of two very different young adults, and taking place in the heart of 1986. The audiobook narration by Rebecca Lowman and Sunil Malhotra was stellar throughout, and probably a good part of what I loved about the reading experience. I think the emotions throughout the story were very palpable. I’ll admit even as the narrative moved through the different trials the teens faced, I felt for them. I felt for Park’s struggles to define himself and I felt for Eleanor’s suffering under the hands of an abusive, drunk stepfather and low-level living within a large family.
Yet, I’ll admit there were parts of this narrative that felt inconsistent and a bit overwrought. I appreciated the insight to some racial attitudes prevalent at the time, but I don’t think they were handled well. Some of it was on behalf of repetition (I got very irritated with how many times I had to hear “That stupid Asian kid” and even how typified black characters were portrayed – both got under my skin as I read through). Other parts of it were the insinuated attitudes towards body image and even gendertyping – I’ve seen it developed much, much better in other narratives within a realistic coat, and I was surprised that for the attention given to these issues in this work, they really weren’t given a balanced focus. It felt either too overstated or just in a tone that, even for showing the contrast of the time period with present attitudes, it just wasn’t handled well. When transitioning to the actual love story in this work – I’ll admit it was difficult to follow for a time, but there were certainly parts of it I liked. I liked getting to know Park not only with respect to his familial interactions, but also noting how socially awkward he was and trying to find his footing with his relationship with Eleanor. I did feel for Eleanor’s home situation and the way that kids bullied her at school – she couldn’t seem to catch a break either way. It made sense why her internalization wasn’t always positive. I wish it could’ve been a little less overwrought, but I understood where it came from.
The pop culture dropping wasn’t necessarily as intimate as I would’ve liked it to be. The story didn’t set the time/place as well as it could have, and other people have pointed out inconsistencies with respect to the timeline that I got only in passing from listening to the narrative, but are no less relevant to how this story may come across to others with higher expectations. The narrative had me going up until the end, and I wish that the conclusion had been tighter. Was it sweet? In a way, but it left me with an incomplete feeling that made me want to ask more questions as to what threads were left untied.
This is a difficult book for me to rate because there were aspects about it I really liked, but others that I strongly think could’ve been presented better. I think with the audiobook reading, I’m likely giving this a higher rating than otherwise. It’s a good work to read, I liked it for what it offered, but I wouldn’t have too high of expectations given its respective issues.
Overall score: 3/5