Sunday, March 19, 2017

Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell
Title: Eleanor and Park
Published: 2013 by St. Martin's Press
Pages: 328
Review Summary: 2/5. Did not like it.

Didn't the entire universe recommend this book? I felt stupid not having read it yet, considering the raving reviews it received. I thought my eyeballs would begin to hurt if I saw another recommendation for Eleanor and Park and still didn't read it. I had no preconceived notions about it--of course it would be a great book because everyone loves it. The cover is minimalist, the new trend for contemporary books, and even though it was romance, I thought I could survive it. 

Lesson learned: Popular belief can be a LIE. I dived into this book knowing it'll be awesome, but I was terribly disappointed. 

First, I'll mention some positive aspects of it (there were indeed a few) before delving into things that made me give a 2 star rating to Eleanor and Park.

1. Non-typical characters. High school stories generally feature impossibly perfect teenagers (at least in the way they look), but that wasn't the case with this book. Eleanor is the opposite of society's ideal (and it is reflected through the book as people form prejudiced opinions about her) and it stays like that. Park is quiet, cute and Asian (which apparently makes him less-than-perfect, according to the story). 

2. The background of the story that makes you feel the FEELS. I love books that make me FEEL. (You know what I mean, right?) Even though the FEELS here were mostly angst and sadness and anxiety and anger, but still. 

Okay, I've thought enough and there seems to be nothing else that made me like this book. Let's get to the point. 

1. Character development (or the lack of it): Eleanor and Park fell in love so swiftly I couldn't catch it. One moment they're hating each other and the next they're holding hands and the next they're declaring their love! For some reason, whatever love-talk they did made me feel NOTHING. It felt like a lie. Which sucks. 

Besides, as quickly as they fell in love, their mental/emotional development was just as slow. It actually didn't even seem to take place, to be frank. I understand that Eleanor's life is upsetting and too hard to cope with. She can't deal with good developments in the same way as her peers. But what about Park? What about Eleanor's family? (I just about HATED Eleanor's mother.)

2. The focus of the story, or the plot. The book's central idea was about two star-crossed lovers/teens, but I felt the story was heavily populated by Eleanor's family troubles that are not even resolved till the end! And what about the clumsy ending? WHAT WAS THAT? 

3. Characters behaving stupidly. If things are getting intense on the emotional parameter, at least get the characters to be in sync with the emotions they are supposed to be portraying. So many things seemed off balance. For instance, Park 'rescuing' Eleanor and then feeling angry when she's sleeping instead of talking to him (no, the fact that she's scared for her life doesn't count).

4. The writing style. The alternate narration with some overlaps was successful in displaying different POVs of the same events but it soon became tiring and monotonous, looking like unnecessary additions that made the book longer than it should have been.

5. Supporting characters. None of them was likeable. They were either too mean, or too weak, or too prejudiced, and then when they had to change to become better, they became the opposite extreme. Subtlety and realism is heavily lacking in this book.

*sigh* I feel so sad having written this, but it's just the true state of affairs. However, I'm also a very moody reader in the sense that my own mood makes me like or dislike a book even more. Many people have loved this book. You may go check out further reviews on Goodreads if you want some other perspective. Take your call, but if you read the book after reading this review, or if you've read it at all, I'd love to know what you think of it! 

PS-Rainbow Rowell has written more books which have received great ratings (such as Fangirl, Attachments and Carry On. You might want to check those out. I haven't read them yet but from the reviews I've read, it seems like Eleanor & Park isn't her best book.)

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Review: Simon vs The Homosapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Why am I not surprised that I adored this book so much? Because Goodreads can't be wrong. Lately it has become my one-stop-shop for book picks and it rarely disappoints. I had been wanting to read a light, nice contemporary book and Simon vs The Homosapiens Agenda came to my book pile. The cover was intriguing, and I hadn't really read a book relating to sexual identity before.

Simon is gay, and he has been emailing Blue (identity unknown), a boy attending the same high-school. They keep their real identities hidden from each other, because neither of them has had their 'coming out' moment. Simon's not sure when he'd be ready--he knows that his family would be accepting, but with their annoying tendency to be over-enthusiastic about anything he does beyond their pre-conceived notions of him, it's a bit difficult. Then there's the whole idea of being bullied by school kids. One day, though, Simon's emails to Blue are read by his classmate, who begins to blackmail him. The story moves forward combining Simon toiling for, sometimes avoiding, Martin, fearing that he would spill his secret when he isn't ready. We meet Simon's friends and go through their lives as well, and we feel Simon's pangs to know the real Blue.

It was quite a refreshing read, actually. The writing is simple and fun, the (almost) typical contemporary narration making it a quick and easy read. However, the fact that I couldn't put it down unless I had read till the end proves that, at least for a picky reader like me, the book serves well to break any reading slump you might be facing. Also, it gives you perspective. How do you feel about being gay and unable to come out with it? Does society or the idea of bullying scare you? Do you get pissed off when straight people find it difficult to admit they like someone of the opposite gender? How do you perceive a friend or schoolmate who's gay?
Becky Albertalli

Book title: Simon vs The Homosapiens Agenda
Author: Becky Albertalli (do read. It's unique and fun!)
Pages: 320
Published: 2015 by HarperCollins (Blazer+Bray)
My rating: 4/5!

~Things I enjoyed~
1. The perfect balance of family understanding and discord. People are there for Simon, but don't exactly make it easy for him to 'come out' because of their tendency to highlight anything out of the ordinary.

2. Characters. I liked how Alice, Simon's elder sister, remained in the background for most of the book but still comes across as a supportive and fun sister. Simon is likeable enough, and he seems realistically vulnerable when he begins being blackmailed by Martin. He's a fun mix of weird and nice. I liked many more character portrayals, but what I liked more was how they were balanced throughout the book. No overdose of any single character. 

3. The school setting. This is purely personal because I hadn't read a book with a school setting since maybe Vampire Academy? Who knows. I, for one, don't keep a tab on book settings. I have a hard time remembering character names the next day. Anyway, the school setting made it 'refreshing' for me. It has also been realistically done. (I don't know how realistic it is though, to have many people who'd support gay rights when they're teenagers. I hope it is very much real!)

4. The mystery. All things apart, the constant mystery of Blue's real identity could have been the prime reason I couldn't put the book down! Minor spoiler alert: For a long time I felt I knew who he was, but then I didn't. Tch.

5. Ms. Albright, the drama teacher. Particularly towards the ending, she turned into a badass woman who won't tolerate bullying. She was quite likeable from the start, though, as a teacher who makes things funny and comfortable for the students by, say, speaking in their language. 

6. The ultimate meeting of Simon and Blue!!! The revelation of Blue. I was hugely anticipating someone as Blue, though it was also somehow unimaginable, but then it ended up being someone I had also imagined as a possible Blue but it had seemed irrelevant at that time. Looking back, the subtle foreshadowing was CUTE. I don't even know it anything in this para makes sense. Writing without spoilers is no good. *sigh* 

What my ebook copy looked like when I went to the park to read
~Things I did NOT enjoy~
1. Character development when it comes to Simon's friends. Simon's own character development isn't intense per se, but visible enough for readers to note. However, I did wonder why Abby and Nick didn't seem to be bothered about Leah. [The following text COULD be a character personality spoiler for some, so read at your own risk.] They both seemed to have been self-absorbed. I get that Leah's behaviour wasn't exactly rational, but Simon handled it way better than the other two. And if I were the choose between Leah and Abby, it would be Leah because Abby, no matter how friendly and cute, was ALWAYS oblivious to Leah and sometimes I was all, 'Doesn't this girl think before speaking stuff?' When I read some Goodreads reviews before getting to this book (not always a great idea. There's always a spoiler), some of them seemed to think Leah's behaviour as selfish. I expected it to be, but ended up feeling quite the opposite. [end of probable spoiler]

2. The play/musical taking up a huge portion of the reader's time, which made me anticipate something AMAZING during the actual play, but things seemed... normal. Sure, there were a couple of things that happened, but nothing worth the hype. What happened with the homecoming was perfectly balanced, in fact.

Overall, you should consider three things:
1. The easy and fun writing style that'll keep you hooked.
2. Your sensitivity towards people's sexual identities and their dilemmas would be greatly enhanced.
3. Your weekend wouldn't be boring if you read this book. :)

Or maybe you could consider a couple of quotes:
“People really are like houses with vast rooms and tiny windows. And maybe it's a good thing, the way we never stop surprising each other.”

“The way I feel about him is like a heartbeat -- soft and persistent, underlying everything.”

Yeah? Feel warm and woozy? Good.


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