Book Review: eleanor & park

I literally just finished reading eleanor & park a few minutes ago. It is a book that I would recommend. It was well written, it featured two wonderful protagonists – named, fittingly, Eleanor and Park. It takes place in the eighties, a time period for which I have a soft spot.

Oh, '80s...

Oh, ’80s…

This book is a romance. High school romance, to be exact. Yet it also deals with much, much more.

First, let’s address the fact that, yes, it does deal with the “status” cliches that are abundant in John Hughes movies. Something that I loved about this book, though, is that even though it occurred in Omaha, it was still a multicultural book. It was refreshing to see black and Asian teenagers, as well as white teenagers, instead of only the rich white kid vs. poor white kid dichotomy.

Second, let’s talk about perspective. The book is told in third person, but primarily focuses on how Eleanor or Park perceives the situations occurring. While the book does frequently shift between the viewpoints of these two characters, it was very easy to follow along, and helped the novel flow well.

In particular, it helped provide breaks from some fairly bleak situations. Eleanor does not have the best living situation.

Warning: From hereon out, spoilers will ensue. Read at your own risk of finding out what happens, if you have not yet read the novel.

spoiler alert

The domestic abuse situation Eleanor and her family were in made me angry. Her stepfather is super abusive, and I understand that sometimes women don’t value themselves enough, so when he started hitting her mother, maybe her mother stayed, anyway. Because by that point, she was sucked in. And he was sweet, sometimes, etc., etc.

But when it’s affecting your kids? That’s a totally different story.

When you and your teenage daughter both feel that she needs to take a bath right after school so that she’s not in danger of doing so while your husband is home, there’s a problem. When your husband is shooting his gun to convince teenage boys to stop playing basketball, there’s a problem. When your teenage daughter can’t even talk to a boy without your husband getting weird and calling her a slut, there’s a problem.

The subtle insinuations that Eleanor is worried she will be raped, along with the obvious statements that she is worried she will be beaten or thrown out of the house, are not merely alarming. They are indicative of how much her mother is not caring enough.

As the mother of a beautiful boy who is almost one (!), this art Eleanor’s mother had perfected of pretending not to notice how inappropriate her husband is was not merely alarming, it was enraging. I was frightened for Eleanor, and I was so angry at her mother, I was almost crying tears of rage. If I even thought anyone was going to physically harm my son, that person wouldn’t see my son or I again.

This bird's got nothing on me...

This bird’s got nothing on me…

And I know that resources for mothers were not as good in the eighties. Now, we have Safehouse and ads and pamphlets that tell us repeatedly that women don’t need to live in situations like that, and that there is help. (Although the media also produces movies, songs, etc., that promote the idea that women are objects that are there to please men, insinuating just the opposite. Is it wrong to kick a chair? No. So if you promote the idea that a woman is just an object there to please men, you are promoting the idea that she is less than human, and therefore not worthy of the respect or treatment that “real people” (aka, men) deserve.  That song “Blurred Lines?” I hate that song. It actually says that “no” means “yes.” Robin Thicke & Pharrell? You are horrible, horrible people.) But it turns out, she could have called her husband and asked him to help her figure things out. Or her brother, whom Eleanor ends up turning to. Again, when it’s just you being hit, that’s one thing. But once you’re worried about your kids (assuming you don’t realize that once your spouse is hitting you, there’s a good chance he’s going to start hitting your kids at some point if you don’t leave), it’s time to talk to whoever you need to to get out of the situation as quickly as possible.

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