Sunday, February 16, 2014

Reader Response: Eleanor & Park Pt. 4

Continued free-form reader response to Eleanor & Park for my Teen Materials class.

** Spoilers everywhere! ** 

Chapter Twenty-One

Park is anxious about his mother meeting Eleanor. Besides her mother placing great importance on finely-tuned femme clothes, hair, and nails, which Eleanor doesn't fit...
"And it wasn't just the clothes. It was her.
Eleanor wasn't..nice.
She was good. She was honorable. She was honest. She would definitely help an old lady across the street. But nobodynot even the old ladywould ever say, Have you met that Eleanor Douglas? What a nice girl.
Park's mom liked nice. She loved nice. She liked smiling and small talk and eye contact...All things Eleanor sucked at.
When Park's mom is about to walk in, he asks Eleanor to smile. Which she does, and it's unnatural. Instead of telling her that it's because of his mother's expectations, Park says she looks nice when she smiles and Eleanor responds that it would be better if he thought she looked nice when she wasn't smiling.

Meanwhile, of course, Park gets by at home and at school precisely because he isn't "nice" and he doesn't smile. He's cool and intimidating and properly manly because of it. This chapter raises awareness of several expectations put on girls and not boys. I was reminded of Catherine Newman's New York Times article: I Do Not Want My Daughters to Be 'Nice'. It would be a perfect pairing for classroom discussion. I'll be using it, anyway.

Kudos to Eleanor for realizing she wasn't being welcomed properly, even by Park, and refusing to put up with that.

Chapter Twenty-Two

More challenging of gender codes with Eleanor telling Park she didn't want him to fight bullies for her if it was really about her, and not about him. The bully backs off, not from the fight, but from Park performing what Steve recognizes as a claim on Eleanor as Park's possession. At least Park doesn't think of it that way. He tells Steve that it shouldn't matter if Eleanor is his girlfriend or not, that no one deserves to be bullied like that.

More depressing things about Eleanor's mom having to quietly steal money from her husband to pay for necessities for her children, risking a beating and still not being able to provide enough. There's no explicit link except juxtaposition, but I wonder if it was an intentional pairing. Both themes of this chapter were about society respecting the space of male ownership. Whether it's about abusing one's woman (negative but tolerated) or shielding one's woman from outside abuse (seemingly positive), it's a situation that makes women vulnerable to "acceptable" abuse whether single or not.

Chapter Twenty-Three

I like Park's dad. I think I have him figured out: he doesn't understand kids, but he's good at adults. When Park is failing to drive stick, his dad is clueless that his own frustration is bad for Park's ability to learn from him. When Park is standing up to his peers and his mother for liking a "weird" girl, Park's dad respects him for that and gives him space. Rowell explains this indirectly in a great way: Park visits his grandparents and is looking at pictures of his parents from the Korean War and hearing about their relationship at the same time his dad is talking his mom down in private. The reader doesn't realize this until the next scene, and even then it might not be put together consciously. Rowell is pretty good at this writing thing.

Chapter Twenty-Four

I'm becoming curious whether this book will offer any practical advice to kids in abusive homes like Eleanor's. Or on bullying, for that matter.

I feel like there's nothing in our society between allowing abusers to walk all over everyone, and our action movie portrayals of extreme physical violence. Those were the options shown earlier in this book when it was either walk away or use years of martial arts training...which, by the way, was shown to be an effective way of gaining respect. Can you now guess why I don't attribute school shootings to video games or the removal of compulsory religious rites from public schools?

Chapter Twenty-Five

Halfway through the book, and I finally know Eleanor's mom is named "Sabrina." I also know what got Eleanor thrown out of the house. No, Eleanor, you weren't asking for it. You just forgot to be a slave for a few minutes.

Chapter Twenty-Six

Good use of chapter divisions.

Chapter Twenty-Seven
"He almost told her all the things his mom had said about her.
It seemed like it was wrong to keep secrets from Eleanor.
But it seemed like it would be more wrong to share that kind of secret."
Park is a faster learner than I am.

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