This book repeatedly punched me in the stomach.
Eleanor and Park meet when Eleanor gets on the bus for her first day at the new school. Eleanor immediately gets on the wrong side of the cool kids on the bus by almost sitting in someone else’s spot. Park growls at her to just sit down next to him. Everything after that awkward and totally real meeting is beautiful and painful and awkward and wonderful. Eleanor and Park are so fucking cute together I actually just swore at you in a review of a YA novel. This was a beautiful, painful and real novel about teen romance. It was also a novel about negotiating identity (when you’re not really sure how to be what people think you are. Are you that thing? Are you not? Does it matter?), being there for your loved ones, and dealing with crappy things in your life.
This book was great also great because of the main characters. Eleanor is a chubby red head and Park is half Korean. Others have talked about the need for diverse characters in teen novels and I think this is a good example.
Spoiler alert and trigger alert: This book deals with domestic violence in a very honest and very real way.
More spoilers ahead.
Eleanor and Park’s relationship grows slowly over a few months. At first, they are just sharing a seat on the bus. Then, they are sharing comic books. Then, they were sharing comic books and music. (I’m actually making a mix tape inspired by the music mentioned in the book.) It just snowballs from there. Eleanor loves her time on the bus because she hates being at home with her Mother’s husband, who is an alcoholic and a wife beater. The story builds until it becomes obvious that the creepiest of the awful things that have been happening to Eleanor aren’t being done by the awful girls in Eleanor’s gym class but are being done by Eleanor’s step dad.
I cried and cried and cried throughout this book. The relationship between Eleanor and Park was wonderful. Eleanor’s relationship with DeNice and Beebi was great. Park’s parents were A+ and their attempts to interact with their son’s first real girlfriend were awkward and beautiful and also very real. Sabrina, Eleanor’s mom, was heartbreaking. (At one point she tells Eleanor she’s so lucky and good for staying away from boys and then implies that there are two types of women in the world: women who are with a man and brave women who aren’t. I think my heart is still breaking from that interaction between mother and daughter.) Eleanor’s brothers and sisters were also heartbreaking.
God, this book. It was so good. It was so good, I’m still crying over it.