Stupid, beautiful Asian kid.”
Hello my loves. Today I’m going to be posting something that I guess borders on controversial. Also disclaimer, this post will most likely have curse words because that’s the only way to describe how much I’m so angry about this book.
Man, Alexa, what do you mean?
Well I mean I’m going to be talking about a book that I utterly despise but everybody seems to love. Mostly it’s because there’s a lot of topics in this book that the community talks about in terms of diversity that people seem to just gloss over in this particular book because it’s a great story I guess (to me personally? It’s a pretty bad story).
I’m going to be talking about Eleanor and Park. This is a YA book that’s been a hit ever since it hit the shelves and from what it looks like, it made Rainbow Rowell’s career. I might be in the wrong here, but the reaction I have from this book is so real and so infuriating that I need to talk about it.
I dislike Eleanor and Park because of the way Park was written. Objectively, his character is boring and just an edgy try-hard in my opinion. He listens to the Smiths, wears black, wears eyeliner, the works. He’s like trying to be a goth kid and it’s just not working. So if this was a white guy, I’d still probably dislike the book. But as a Korean American? This book just bordered on ridiculous. Let me get the first thing through here first.
Park’s name is Park Sheridan. I’m sorry let me repeat this.
PARK’S NAME IS PARK SHERIDAN.
Do you know what the problem this poses? Park is a Korean last name. For a Korean kid to have a last name as a first name, first of all is just right out ridiculous. I will be honest, I DNF’d this novel. I couldn’t get like past five chapters of this book because the story was the most 500 Days of Summer, special snowflake, all on the surface kind of love story I’ve ever seen. But the fact that Park’s name is just Park. I, for the longest time, thought that Eleanor didn’t call him by his first name because Park was supposed to be Korean-American right? So we ALL HAVE TO KNOW ALL THE DAMN TIME that he’s Korean so she only calls him by Park.
Turns out that’s his first name. This is actually hysterical. I thought my Korean name is bad. Holy moly. If he ever sees his family in Korea or something he’ll be the butt of so many jokes. I’m so sorry Park. Literally what the fuck.
Now the greater issue? Eleanor compares Park and his mom in the most stereotypical way. She says that his eyes are almond shaped, that his skin is yellow, that (apparently) he has some ninja magic, this and that about literally the most stereotypical East Asian stereotype there is but Korean. Like man as if there weren’t Koreans in the 80s? Not even that, whenever Eleanor says some shit like that Park doesn’t seem to want to correct her? Rainbow Rowell talks about how she wants diversity in YA or literature and all of this stuff, but like what would’ve made all of this reasonable is that Eleanor learns that you know Park isn’t just some half Asian-half white kid who happens to live in her block. I guess they end up in love with each other but all Eleanor has to say near the end is:
“Stupid Asian kid.
Stupid, beautiful Asian kid.”
Stupid, beautiful Asian kid.”
I mean I guess it’s supposed to come full circle, but like what. That’s all you learned in this entire book? You learned that the Asian kid you hated in the beginning is actually a beautiful Asian kid? Are you serious? Rainbow Rowell makes it seem like this book is supposed to promote diversity or interracial relationships but like… no?? This is not how you promote a healthy interracial relationship? It honestly would’ve been better if Park’s heritage was mention a smaller amount of times because this is supposed to be about Eleanor and Park falling in love with each other and growing? Not Eleanor falling in love with this psuedo punk rock Korean guy.
Oh and his mom? His mom is described like a China doll. Just:
“Eleanor imagined Park’s dad, Tom Selleck, tucking his Dainty China person into his flack jacket and sneaking her out of Korea.”
What is his mom a drug that needed to be smuggled into America?
Like I just… If you’re going to try and promote diversity in YA fiction or fiction in general this is not how you do it. You know how you do it? You have these minorities in your stories act like real living beings. You don’t make them seem like a China doll. You know what would have been nice? If that was what Eleanor thought and then she met Park’s mom and discovered, oh wow. This isn’t just some stereotype I’ve been grown up to believe. This is an actual person with feelings. She doesn’t even seem that curious about the Korean culture.
What’s even funnier? Is just how wrong Rowell seems to write Korean women. She writes Park’s mom to be this dainty flower that doesn’t really speak up much and is just the face of demure Asian wives everywhere, which–newsflash–ISN’T THE CASE. I’m going to tell you right now, because I’m a Korean woman we are not like this. Most Korean women are spit fires. You know what Park’s mom probably would’ve said to Park? She probably would’ve made a comment about Eleanor’s weight. It’s not a hugely positive thing, but it’s something that’s really engrained in the culture.
Now I’ve been ranting and raving about this book and you’ve probably clicked away from this post. If not, comment at the end because I will like send you chocolates or something. My biggest issue with this book? It’s overwhelming popularity. I normally don’t have an issue with contemporary novels getting a great number of good reviews. What I have a problem with, is that no one seems to bring up these issues in the novel. I feel like they probably let it slide because “Oh yeah it was the 80s in Omaha. It’s probably going to be racist”. You know what? Yeah. I’ll give them that. Sure. But what would’ve made this not as cringe worthy and not as skin crawly is if Eleanor changed in that view somewhat. That’s what would’ve made this novel an actual diverse novel. Having a diverse novel doesn’t mean that the main love interest is half Korean and you get to say all this racist shit in the book about East Asians. That’s not how it works. All it did was further perpetuate that it’s totally okay to love a guy because he’s Korean and maybe a psuedo punk/goth kid.
There was absolutely nothing about Korean culture in this book. His mom was nothing like a Korean mother. He seemed to have absolutely zero connection to his heritage (which, alright, I feel this on a personal level). There wasn’t a mention at all about Korean foods, Korean customs–nothing showing that Eleanor really cared about his Korean heritage. Only the fact that he was this exotic Asian person that sees her for who she truly is:
Not like the other girls.
Honestly, this book wouldn’t have struck such an angry chord with me if Park’s Asianess wasn’t mentioned in like every other chapter. I would’ve passed it off as another contemporary I don’t like because it deals with this whole “I’m not like the other girls” manic pixie dream girl story line that I really just side eye because yawn. But the fact that Park’s Asianess is so emphasized in this book shows me just how little Rowell really wanted to fully portray this diverse cast. She didn’t want to show people “hey guys these stereotypes are wrong”. She just wanted to show that she can have two Asian people in a book and pander to an audience that wants more “diversity”. It honestly just shows her lack of research in the topic. Authors really like to boast and brag about how much research they do, but the research here is simply… Not here. It really bothers me because if I was going to write a novel about a culture I don’t fully understand (and Rowell has admitted that she lived in a white and racist town. Like wouldn’t that tell you hmm I may not have the best image of these people????) I would go out and ask people that… you know are part of the culture. I wouldn’t just go blindly and say, “Yeah that’s totally how that’s gonna work”.
Honestly? I would’ve given her more credit if she attempted to put in some kind of culture other than their skin color and their facial features. I would’ve not been as angry if she had made an attempt to show what Park’s home life was other than an Asian mom who can’t really speak English and is really skinny (newsflash, not all Asian people are skinny. A lot of them are, but not all of them). But like what? Did she just decide to uproot the culture that she was raised in? Did she just decide on a whim yeah I’m not going to have bibimbap or kimchi or kalgooksu ever again?
Like damn son I don’t even like Korean food that much, but if someone told me you’re never going to have bibimbap again I’d just say BYE FELICIA.
*let’s out a breath*
If you’ve made it to the end. Please tell me through Twitter or something, like it means a lot that you’ve decided to stick it out to the end.
I would like to hear your thoughts.
Agree or Disagree? I may have been too harsh, but this is just how I feel about it.