Eleanor and Park is making almost every best YA of 2013 list and I hated it. I read it because of the awesome cover, where the kids are sharing music. I have really enjoyed books that featured music in the past. I also read this because I started seeing in on so many best of the year lists.
I also found a great piece by Kit Steinkellner over on Book Riot defending Eleanor and Park. Her post got me thinking about my experiences reading the book. How was the book for me as an adult verses how it would have been if I was still a teen?
I had mixed feelings about Eleanor and Park the whole way through. I liked how well Rowell showed that silence that happens in a home of abuse. I like how even Park's seemingly good life still had uncomfortable moments. But I hated Eleanor. I hated her for being like me and I hated for all the choices she could have made that would make her better than me, but she was still wallowing in the sad parts of her life. I hated that I never really felt like she was a character, but merely a caricature. And maybe that is too harsh. Maybe I want more out of my YA heroines.
I think the role of YA is more difficult than ever. We want girls to be presented with strong characters with good body image. Yet these type of characters will also be unrealistic. How do we strike the balance between the two. This balance is the difference between a good book and perfect book. Every time I read I am looking for a perfect book. That may not be fair to the authors or other readers, but it is the only way I can be fair to myself.
In other books that are connected with music I find this element to be charming. Maybe I was just in a bad mood when I was reading Eleanor and Park because so many things annoyed me about it. I love that Eleanor and Park bonded over music and comics, but I didn't feel connected personally with either of those things. They didn't make me want to stop reading and go put some music on. Again this may be a lack on my part, but the whole thing was missing a spark. And how it had more language than I personally enjoy.
This being said, I want Eleanor and Park to exist. I think it is a great story for teens to connect with. I just happened not to.
The other important note I should make is that I did the book on audio and the narrator just had a certain snark in her voice that really grated on me. Maybe this is a perfect representation of Eleanor, but either way I didn't like it.