Eleanor is the new girl on the bus. She’s one of those girls who just stands out: she has flaming red hair, she’s not the thinnest person, and she dresses like a hobo. The last thing Park wants is for her to sit next to him.
True, Park is not exactly someone who blends in in all-white Omaha, Nebraska, in late 1986. He’s short. He’s half-Korean. He likes alternative music. He reads comic books. He’s spent his life trying to lie low in order to avoid the dreaded high school persecution. So having the “taint” of Eleanor isn’t exactly what he wants in his life.
Except, slowly, he realizes what a gem she is. It starts with comic books: she begins by reading over his shoulder, and that leads to actively sharing them with her. And as their relationship develops, Park falls head over heels in love.
The most beautiful thing about this book is the slow development of Eleanor and Park’s relationship. It’s not love at first sight, an unusual thing in teen fiction these days. It’s a friendship that develops into something more. And it’s complicated. Not the least because Eleanor’s stepfather is all about power and control and, yes, abuse. It’s because of her stepfather (and her father, really, who isn’t much better) that Eleanor is anxious about men, tries to fly low on the radar, and dresses the way she does. And Park, because of his innate decency, is able to get through all of Eleanor’s defenses.
And the ending? Shall I just say it was perfect. Not “happily ever after,” but hopeful. Amazingly, wonderfully, perfectly hopeful. Which makes this one just about perfect.
Rated: High for language, including the f-word; domestic violence; and getting to “second base.”