I wasn’t sure what to expect with Eleanor and Park, but I fell in love with them.
Eleanor is a red-haired, the new girl in school that everyone seems to want to make fun of, and nobody notices beyond that.
Park is half-Asian, cooler, with friends and martial arts skills.
When Eleanor gets on the bus for the start of 10th grade, with the wrong clothes on, the wrong style, and the wrong attitude (or so it seems to everyone else on the bus), Park notices her, but not in a good way. However, he lets her sit next to him, and the two eventually talk, Park lends Eleanor graphic novels, and they become friends.
Eleanor comes from a broken home, with a mother who loves and cares about her kids but is afraid of her husband, a biological dad who doesn’t seem to want her or her siblings, and a stepfather who emotionally abuses the family and physically abuses her mother. She wears the “wrong clothes” because her mother can’t afford to get her anything that isn’t from Goodwill.
Park comes from a more stable home, with a father who was in the military and a mother who does hair. His parents met while his father as stationed in Vietnam. Park is more popular, having dated the popular girl at one point.
Eleanor and Park fall in love, with Park being more romantic, and Eleanor being a little more realistic about how long young love lasts and such.
I loved this book, from the themes of abuse, to young love. I normally don’t enjoy romance, but this was such a light and airy one; not vacuous, but young and happy, with explorations of boundaries and identity.
Eleanor has to get over her fears of opening up to Park, while Park has to get over his fears of being looked on weirdly by the other students for spending time with “Big Red,” as Eleanor is called mockingly by others.
I loved how the book grows the two as a couple and as people. Eleanor showcases strength in wanting to stand up to her stepfather, and eventually leaving to her uncle’s. She also starts to take charge of some of her insecurities like not being pretty enough. Park stands up to his family in a sense, by wearing makeup his father hates at one point, and by dating a girl his mother is iffy about because she “comes from the wrong family.”
This book had a sweet, almost nostalgic feel to it. It made me relive my teenage love interests, the feelings that arise when you’re young, in love for the first time, and that love is reciprocated. Both Eleanor and Park could be you – Eleanor, with her body insecurities and unfortunate family life, Park, with his social insecurities and living up to family standards.
The book might be a cliche teenage love story – they meet on a bus for the first time, and if that’s not cliche, I don’t know what is. But the book still had its own flavor, and I kept wanting more servings of it. It’s a story about acceptance – of oneself, and of others who may be a little different than you on the outside.
The ending is lovely, with Eleanor escaping her stepfather, and eventually writing Park a letter with just three words: presumably, I love you.
A fitting end to a sweet, bittersweet, and nostalgic, young book.
Favorite quotes from Eleanor and Park:
“He made her feel like more than the sum of her parts.”
“But it’s up to us …’ he said softly. ‘It’s up to us not to lose this”
“I look like a hobo?”
“Worse,” he said. “Like a sad hobo clown.”
“And you like it?”
“I love it.”
As soon as he said it, she broke into a smile. And when Eleanor smiled, something broke inside of him.
Something always did.”