The Life of Bon: Bon's Book Club: ELEANOR & PARK

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Bon's Book Club: ELEANOR & PARK

Hello and welcome to book club!

(If you are new around here and want to join in for book club, it's super easy!  Just read the book and then come back here on the last Thursday of the month to discuss.  Full details are here.)

 (If you link up I'd love you to slap this image on your post somewhere.  Please and thank you!)

2014 Book Club Schedule:

January: The Husband's Secret by Liane Mortiary (January 30)  Discussion here.
February:  I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai (February 27) Discussion here.
March: Divergent by Veronica Roth (March 27) Discussion here.
April:  Night Circus by Eric Morgenstern (April 24) Discussion here.
May:  The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman (May 29). Discussion here.
June:  Matilda by Roald Dahl (June 26). Discussion here.
July:  In Cold Blood  by Truman Capote (July 31).  Discussion here.
August:  Brain on Fire: by Susannah Cahalan (August 27).  Discussion here.

September:  Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell 

October:  Z by Therese Ann Fowler (October 23)
November:  Wonder by R.J. Palacio (November 20)
December: My Story by Elizabeth Smart (December 30)

The question is am I ever going to like a book that we read for book club?  I feel like there must be something seriously wrong with me that I hate every book!  I mean, I didn't hate them all, I guess.  I loved In Cold Blood, but I've already read that so it feels like that's cheating.  I just don't feel like we've read that book yet that has been a "I'M- SO- GLAD- I- READ- THIS- BOOK- IT'S- AMAZING" book yet.

I had really high hopes for eleanor & park.  It has been so popular with the young kids and it was on the ninth grade honors reading list at my school- I just thought it was going to be awesome.  It wasn't.  I was totally disappointed.

My main issues with the book:

1)  I feel like it's an impossible love story- one that would never happen in real life.  My sister once told me that the formula for a successful YA novel is to have a very average, normal girl get an absolutely amazing guy.  The guy has to be more perfect and dreamy than any guy that exists in real life and he has to fall head over heels for a super average girl.  Young girls eat that stuff up because it is their fantasy- being an average girl that catches the dream guy. (Hunger Games, Twilight, Divergent).  Ever since she told me this I have been weary of books that do this.  I feel like I'm being manipulated.  eleanor & park is the story of an attractive and well liked Asian boy who falls for a poor and overweight redhead.  Rowell states multiple times that Eleanor is overweight, (To the point that it got a little tiring for me- yes, I get it.  She's heavy.) that she doesn't often shower or brush her teeth, that she has very few clothes that she wears over and over to school.  I think it is sweet that Park, who comes from a perfect middle class family, falls in love with her, but it's just never going to happen in real life.

2)  I didn't like Eleanor.  She's just an extremely unlikeable character.  She comes from a tough home, I get that, but I think Rowell went a bit overboard in making her be harsh.  She pulls away from Park all the time, is constantly making him tell her why she likes him, she is defensive and just straight up mean.  This plays into #1 a bit, I feel like no guy would sit there and chase a girl who is that mean all the time.  And Park is just unbelievably nice, it was unreal..  I needed to see a bit more sweetness in Eleanor, and it just wasn't there.

3)  NOTHING HAPPENS. The book is over 300 pages and here's the plot: Eleanor and Park meet.  Eleanor and Park fall in love (which is a very typical teenage love story- nothing special or unique about it.) Eleanor gets bullied for her weight. Eleanor runs away because her stepdad finds out about the relationship. The end. There wasn't any suspense, nor did it feel like it was ever building up to anything.  Even the part where her step dad found out about the relationship was very anticlimactic- Eleanor comes home, realizes he knows, and leaves the house immediately.  Park drives her to her uncle's house in Minnesota.  The book ends.  I had 50 pages left in the book and was not a bit curious to see how it ended- that's definitely a bad sign in my book.

4)  The book has too many f words for a YA novel.  And they're pretty pointless f words too.  I understand needing a few here and there to prove your point, but there are so many that are just in casual conversation or thought.  I suppose my problem is that I know a lot of really good kids who like to read.  Sometimes I worry that they read stuff like this and think they should act that way.  You know, if even the nerdy people in books use the f word like that, or drink, or sleep around, then they should be doing that stuff too.  I hate the way tv and movies portray high school.  Usually books do a better job, but not this one.  I know that Rowell was trying to make her characters realistic and relatable, but it makes me sad that we think our book heroes have to be using the f word right and left for teenagers to relate to them.  There's a lot more good kids out there than we give credit for.

5)  Rowell never tells us what happened between Eleanor and her stepdad that she was kicked out of the house before the book starts.  We can pretty much assume what it was, but it bugs me that she never tells readers.

6)  The end of the book says that Park gets a postcard from Eleanor with three words on it and then the book ends.  Worst ending ever.  What are the three words?  I love you?  Just tell us- stop with the guessing game already!

Things I liked about the book:
- Easy read and a fun and interesting voice.
- I loved Park's parents' relationship.  They are so in love with each other, and that part was very sweet.  He says something at one point in the book how when he would wake up scared at night he would think about how much his parents loved each other, not how much his parents loved him.  All parents love their kids, but they didn't have to love each other.  I thought that part was very sweet.

Alright, I'm ready for your thoughts!

Did you like the book?  
Did you find their ill fated relationship to be sweet?  Believable?  
Did the language bother you? 
And even if you haven't read the book-
Do you agree with me that f words in YA books are unnecessary?  
Why do you think the author chose to add the language she did?

Add your link if you wrote your own post.  Now that I have Disqus on my comments I am hoping we can have a great conversation below!

October's book is Z by Theresa Fowler.  It is about F. Scott Fitzgerald's wife, Zelda.  I am so excited for it because I love the Fitzgeralds and I love everything about the 1920s.  I hope it doesn't let me down.  Join in for the next month!


  1. Lots of language in YA books really bothers me! I don't like to read it because I know that when I'm exposed to bad language in excess, it's much easier for me to slip into thinking/saying some of those words. Especially for middle school/young high schoolers who are very impressionable, language used in media can have an effect on their vocabulary.

    I've never joined Bon's Book Club before, but I'm excited to be on board for next month! I absolutely love the Fitzgeralds; they're so interesting to me!

  2. I attempted to read this book a while back and probably stopped about halfway through - if I even made it that far. It was repetitive, and as you've stated even the main characters weren't all that fantastic. I was disappointed because I'd read so many good things about it.

  3. I read the book and enjoyed it. I agree, though, with disliking Eleanor. I'm assuming the three words on the postcard was "I love you" since she could never say it to him throughout the whole book.

    Here's my post on it:

  4. I felt like the book was pointless. There wasn't any real plot to the story and it never went anywhere. I'm not understanding how this is a top read for YAs as absolutely nothing happens in the book.

  5. I read this book a few months ago after finishing The Fault in Our Stars. It was one of those, "if you loved that, you'll love this..." kind of recommendations. And I didn't. I didn't love it. I didn't even really like it. I agree that E was extremely abrasive and played up her pitiful state very well. I HATED the ending. Rowell could have taken out the curse words and used that space to give more detail. I think it was supposed to imply that she was being sexually abused by her stepdad (maybe that was just my thought) and feared the wrath of worse when he found out she had a boyfriend. The mother was a weak character that wouldn't protect her so she ran away....It just felt so anticlimactic! I closed it feeling disappointed.

  6. I adored this book and I don't mind that you disagree with me. I'm just not used to people disagreeing with me and having such well thought out reasons!

    I liked
    the characters (even Eleanor) and I enjoyed how their relationship slowly grew over time; some people might see that as nothing happening, but I felt like it was more realistic. I think most people take a while to meet and fall in love. I
    identified with many of the cute feelings they had while getting to know each other.

    I tend to agree with your sister on her YA formula. But I'm kind of okay with it because I read to learn and grow, but I also read for enjoyment and entertainment. Sometimes I like improbable romances; they're a way to get away from the real world. I think that's why Rainbow Rowell is so popular. Her books are relate-able, but they also have a little improbability weaved in.

    I liked Eleanor. To me she was a survivor. She was tough and shy and kind of quirky. I listened to the audiobook version of this book and the lady who voiced Eleanor did a splendid job (even though she was clearly a grown woman). I listened clear back in April, but I still remember the tender way she would say Park's name. I liked the guy who voiced Park, too. It was kind of sweet switching perspectives between two people who were falling in love with each other.

    I also loved Park's parents. They intrigued me. His
    mother was so cute and funny. I was touched when she mentioned her
    family was similar to Eleanor's. I definitely wasn't expecting that
    interesting little parallel. Park's Magnum PI dad seemed to be a jerk at
    first, kind of like Eleanor's step-dad, but throughout the book I
    realized he was nothing like Ritchie. He cared about Park and even
    Eleanor. He treated Park's mother like a queen.

    For most of the
    second half of the book, my body was physically aching with pain for
    Eleanor. I was also aching for her siblings, her mother, and all the
    millions of people who go through similar abusive situations in real life. At
    the same time, I was so angry at Eleanor's mother. I couldn't understand
    how she could put her abusive husband before her children. But it
    happens all the time. In the end, I hope she woke up. I hope she was
    able to be brave like Eleanor. I hope they got out.

    I remember
    one point in the book where Eleanor was describing the feeling of
    leaving Park or being away from him. She described it as a hole in her
    chest. That description resonated with me so much! That is TOTALLY what it feels
    like to be away from the one you love. The absence does feel like a
    gaping hole in your chest.

    There was definitely a LOT strong language in this book. I agree that is was (mostly) unnecessary and I think it could've been just as good without it. But authors get to make the decisions in their books and I can respect that. If I had a teenager who wanted to read it I would probably try and make them wait until they were mature enough to have a conversation with me about the strong language and other sexual themes in the story.

    I used to get really annoyed when authors would leave information out of the book, but I've started to relate that to real life. We don't always have the answers. We don't always know what's really going on. I've read all 4 of Rainbow Rowell's books and I didn't like the last five pages in 3 out of the 4. That doesn't mean the other 300 pages weren't enjoyable.

    I would rate Rowell's books in this order:
    (and I know A LOT of people would disagree)

    1. Attachments
    2. Fangirl
    3. Eleanor & Park
    4. Landline

    If I wanted anyone to try out Rainbow Rowell, I would have them read Attachments. Its basically every girls fantasy- for a guy to fall in love with your mind before he ever meets you in person.

    Anyway... I get the longest comment ever award today. Yay me!

  7. I haven't joined in this year. I still have the last tree from last year. I got out of reading after I had our son in September. We had a lot of changes, one of them being me quitting my FT job to be home during the day. (A lot of my reading was at work during breaks and lunch). I'm not saying I haven't been reading. I have. This month I read Happy Happy Happy and Four. Both of which I loved. I haven't joined back up because my average is one a month right now and I have two shelves of books I haven't read yet. I loved when I was part of it though and look forward to joining in the literacy fun again.

  8. Yes, they are so impressionable! It bugs me a bit with books too when they go overboard with language- tv sitcoms aren't allowed to say the f word like that- books should consider reigning it in as well.

  9. Yes, very repetitive and tedious! I don't like it when a book feels like "work" and this definitely did in some parts.

  10. That's what I assume as well... I would just think that should would have made it a bit more obvious if that was it?

  11. I agree completely! There is essentially no plot!

  12. I have heard it compared to Fault in Our Stars as well which seems like kind of a joke to me. I didn't absolutely love TFIOS like many have, but I definitely liked it and thought it was well written and executed. Eleanor and Park didn't compare. Abrasive is an excellent word to desribe Eleanor!

  13. Kirby, thanks so much for your long and thoughtful comment! A couple of things:

    - I do think most relationships grow slowly and usually somewhat uneventfully. I suppose if I am reading a book about it though, I expect it to be special, because well, a book was written about it. I can totally see your point though.
    - I can see your point of Eleanor being a survivor, but to me she was doing only that. Just trying to survive. I don't understand why she went back to live in that house after what happened, and I don't understand why she didn't do more to help her siblings. That part was a little tough for me- that she spent so much time at Park's and then ran away, leaving her poor siblings with the abusive stepdad. I know you said the mom was weak for not standing up for the kids and I totally agree, but I think it also weakens Eleanor that she didn't do more to help them. She would have been a lot more likeable for me had she tried to do more for the rest of them, not just save herself.
    - I love your comment about authors getting to make the decisions on the book and respecting that. I respect the comment, but still don't know if I respect Rowell's decision to include so many f words (Don't know if that makes any sense!:)

    I will have to try attachments after I have given myself a little Rowell break!

  14. I totally understand- it can be so hard to make time to read. What is Happy Happy Happy about? I think I will have to pass on Four given that I had a really tough time with Divergent. (Why am I so critical of books? UGH!)

  15. Language doesn't really bother me in books. I don't think we give enough credit to teens for being mature enough to realize that authors choose the language they do to enhance setting & character development. But maybe that will change when I become a parent! Ha!

    Here's my post with my thoughts on E&P:

  16. I was really engrossed in the book. I think that Eleanor's home life was so horrifying to me and I think I kept feeling like more was about to be uncovered, take place, etc. I kept reading... Sure that something would happen but it never did. The ending was just so poorly done. I actually found their love story to be believable but maybe it's just because I'm a romantic. I didn't hate Eleanor. I'm not sure why. I just felt really sorry for her. Overall I think the book was just lacking in plot. There was a decent foundation but nothing more. I was disappointed to say the least.

  17. I agree with your thoughts on Eleanor. It also bugged me that she didn't help her siblings and she just ran away. I kind of struggled through seeing her point of view in that and I finally just decided that she was still a kid herself. I also think that her step-dad was a lot more horrible to her because of whatever happened in their past. I feel like he saw the younger kids as less of a threat because they weren't being as rebellious as Eleanor, they were just hoping for a father figure to love and look up to. I still wish she could've made her mother see sense, but I think Rowell left that open on purpose.

    I've read that people think that is how today's youth speak, but from my experience here in Utah, I don't think that's true. Maybe that's how they speak in Nebraska? Most of Rowell's books are set in Nebraska and most of them involve a big amount of profanity. I think I just decided it must've been the culture. I don't know if it was the same or different in the 80's?

  18. I've noticed that in most of Rainbow Rowell's books I was disappointed with the ending. I feel like she starts off so strong and it's like she gets bored and just fizzles out. When I was reading Fangirl and I finished the book I had to go back and reread the last 5 pages because I was so confused on what even happened! I think this might be something she really needs to work on.

  19. I can see all of your points, but I still enjoyed the book. I can't find the right words to explain way .... but I did. Also, I assumed the three words on the postcard were, "Park, Just stop." As in, she wanted him to stop trying to contact him. But maybe I'm assuming wrong.

  20. You wouldn't like Four if you didn't like divergent. I loved it though. ;) sometimes I just love those easy to read get lost in me books.
    Happy happy happy is by Phil Robertson from dick dynasty. It's a story about how he started his business and his personal story of growing up and coming to Christ. I loved this book so much.


    1. Hannah didn't like this book either, and after your post, I feel fine skipping it. My friend who has read all Rowell's books says her adult books (like attatchments) are better than her YA, with less swearing and less sex. Go figure. (Not that I mind swears/sex, I just think it's an interesting contradiction.

    2. I really feel you will love Attachments when you are ready. It's like a fun delightful rom-com and it's very sweet. One of my favorite books I read last year.

    3. Something serious: I really think it is important never to put responsibility on a minor to save siblings or parents from abuse. An abused person doesn't have the resources to help others, and really, surviving AT ALL is the accomplishment. As a child of abuse, (I'm not saying that to gain attention or sympathy, it a part of my history, but it is over) I often felt terrible guilt that I couldn't prevent bad things from happening to other people, and I stayed in dangerous situations in an attempt to help or save others. We can't ask victims to save others, especially when they are minors themselves. It's the whole "put on your own air mask before aiding others" concept. I didn't read the book, but I feel confident saying that Eleanor couldn't have done anything for her siblings, and one of the horrible aspects of the abuse cycle is a return to the abusive environment because it is the "familiar" and "normal" and they don't have a paradigm to replace it with. Just my two cents. :) (AS ALWAYS)

  22. Yes, the total formula for YA fiction = plain jane girl + super hot, funny, all-around great guy who just HAPPENS to fall in love with plain jane's less than stellar personality and OH YEAH, she's really beautiful too! I would also add in a love triangle with the best friend of PJ who is less good-looking but they're BFFs. I get so frustrated by YA fiction (but also love it) that I wrote my own YA fiction novel last November for NaNoWriMo and did not include any of those aspects -- I mean, there's a love story, but a realistic one :)

    I didn't read this book but some YA fiction I DO like =
    - Graceling & Fire - Kristin Cashore (fantasy / really strong female heroines! NOT obsessed with a guy ...but still a love story :))

    - The Infernal Devices -- Cassandra Claire (paranormal/fantasy -- BUT SO MUCH BETTER THAN TWILIGHT ... not even at the same level .. also, historical)
    - The Mortal Instruments - Cassandra Claire again (both series intertwine with each other)
    - The Lunar Chronicles (Dystopian -- all stories in the series are based on fairytales - first book "Cinder" = Cyborg Cinderella ... and its much better than that makes it sound and each book gets better)

    I have also read Divergent, Maze Runner, Delirium, etc. (books that people rave about) and did not find them compelling or good so trust me when I say- ESPECIALLY Infernal Devices is probably my fave YA fiction, & Graceling + Fire

  23. First off, I love that you have put your name in as "Work Stephanie." That is awesome. Hannah and I were talking about this book yesterday and she told me to read Attachments too, so I think I will give it a go after I've had a little Rowell break. I disliked this book enough to not want to read much more from the same author but I have heard from multiple people that Attachments was good so I'm going to make an effort to get to it.

    Excellent comment on not putting responsibility on a minor to save siblings from abusive relationships. I hadn't thought about it in that light, but I really appreciate your perspective and insight. Love the air mask metaphor- I think it fits perfectly. I would be interested if you ever do read the book (which sounds like you probably won't) what you think of Eleanor as a character- is you agree that she is too harsh or abrasive or if you see that as an accurate portrayal of her being a product of her environment. I always value your opinion.

    Lastly, did you like The Glass Castle? I am reading a book right now called Breaking Night- (Not to be confused with Breaking Bad...) it's in the same vein as GC. A memoir from a Harvard graduate about her childhood growing up with two parents addicted to cocaine. It is very interesting so far.

  24. I think some young people definitely speak that way, but definitely not all. My worry is that when an author chooses to make her characters this way that young people who are reading the book may feel like they should be more that way too. I just feel like young people are so impressionable and that kind of stuff sticks. Excellent comment about still being a kid herself. Stephanie (Work Stephanie) left an interesting comment below about never blaming minors themselves for not getting siblings out of abusive relationships. It was very insightful.

  25. Oh, that one sounds great! I will put it on my list!

  26. I think some students are definitely mature enough to make that distinction, but I think a lot still aren't. I feel like so many students never think about that an awful is deliberately making a choice by choosing to do the things she does- but maybe those are the kinds of students who aren't reading in their free time anyway :)

  27. 100% agree with your "waiting for something to happen that never did" sentiment. And the ending just fizzled out. I totally hated it.

  28. Fizzles is the perfect word for the ending! I feel like an editor would work on that with her though unless she was very deliberately trying to end her books that way. I don't get it.

  29. I wondered if the last words were for him to stop too. I think she's maybe trying to do an inception type of thing where we get to decide the ending that we want for the book- I just don't feel like it quite worked.

  30. This is such a great list! I just had a student ask me the other day for some YA fantasy suggestions and I couldn't think of anything past the usual Divergent, Maze Runner, Hunger Games, City of Bones stuff. I'm totally going to give this list to her and Graceling & Fire sounds like one I may definitely have to check out!

  31. I haven't joined in on the last few books in the book club since I got engrossed in the Outlander series, but I was going to take a break from the series after the one I'm reading now and was going to read Eleanor and Park. After this review I think I may pick something else :/

  32. Joining in a day late - sorry!

    I had mixed feelings on the book. It was cute and fun, but not exactly memorable. I didn't buy into their relationship either and I had a hard time identifying with Eleanor because I felt like Rowell didn't bother developing her beyond the original description (overweight, strangely dressed, and abused).

    I didn't even notice the use of language. That may be because I don't normally mind language in books, or it's because the last YA book I read was Looking for Alaska which was just so overboard with sex/drugs/deviance that this seemed mild by comparison!

    I love that you loved Park's parents - they were my favorite! Absolutely adorable as a couple, but both flawed and thus believable.

    My review:

  33. That was what I assumed too! I know we'll never know, but I hope we're right anyway :-)

  34. I'm a bit late, but here's my post: :)

  35. I was pretty disappointed in this book as well....I had such high hopes for it. I just found it.....boring. Here is my review

    Sleepy Single Girl

  36. Yah, don't bother with Eleanor and Park but do join in for Z for October!

  37. I forgot to mention how I loved that Park's parents were flawed too. Such great characters! And I agree completely on the not developing Eleanor further than the original description. I wanted to see her grow a bit more as a character, and we didn't see that at all.

  38. Can't wait to read it!

  39. Boring is the perfect word to describe the book!

  40. It's been awhile since I've read Eleanor and Park, and I remember I had high hopes for it too. I liked it... but not what I expected at all. Go read her other novels! They are SO MUCH BETTER. My favorite is a tie between Attachments (ADORABLE AND FUN) and Fangirl (basically... it's for us girls who adore things like Harry Potter and live on the internet).

    As for swearing in YA novels- it all depends on the context. You shouldn't throw in f-bombs and other swearing in there just for the sake of throwing it in there. That's stupid. But if it fits the character and the context and it gets the point across, then I'm fine with it. Teenagers hear swearing and swear themselves all of the time. I'm not saying we should promote foul language, but I feel like literature needs to be realistic too. I talked about this with teenagers a lot when I was a youth minister when it came to music and stuff. I told them how our words have power and the point of swearing is to shock and to prove a point. Those words get thrown around so much now and it's just trashy. I'm not promoting foul language - but I do know there are just those moments when that's the only word which fits what you feel and what you want to say.

  41. Amen and amen. I was so disappointed in this book.