If you met Park Sheridan on the bus, you'd probably think he was cool, maybe a little weird, and definitely an outsider. Park's not into sports, partying, girls, or the social scene at his school, and he's just popular enough not to get teased, and just different enough not to belong.
Park's given up on blending in. He's half Korean (Irish dad, Korean mom), and unlike his younger brother Josh, he looks more Korean than anything else. With jet-black hair and green eyes, he definitely doesn't look like anyone else in Omaha, Nebraska, where the Asian population at Park's school seems close to zero.
To this end, Park's identity is pretty closely tied to being Korean because that's what everyone else sees on the outside. Park himself, though, doesn't really know what to make of being Korean, saying, "I guess I don't really know what that means" (19.146-150). His dad met his mom in the Army and brought her back to the States, so Park's just as unaware of Korea as anyone else in Omaha. Park knows that his dad's family is the reason he doesn't get bullied, though:
Even though they all thought Park was weird and yellow, even though he had never fit in… They couldn't call him a freak or a chink or a fag, because—well, first, because his dad was a giant and a veteran and from the neighborhood. (30.113)
Still, Park's race isn't the only thing that makes him different. Like Eleanor, he's passionate about music and comic books. He likes to wear black, usually with a t-shirt advertising one of his favorite bands, plus he thinks the popular kids in his class are obnoxious. Park doesn't just use music to escape—he also uses it to drown out "the morons at the back of the bus" (1.1). The same "morons" that torment Eleanor.
Park also feels like an outsider in his own family. His dad and brother, both big, strong guys, share a mutual love of sports, guns, and trucks. In contrast, Park's on the small side, and sports aren't his thing:
Park hated football. He cried when his dad took him pheasant hunting […] And he kind of wanted his mom to give him blond highlights. Park knew he was different. (19.161)
As the story goes on, Park decides to wear eyeliner—he likes how it looks (and Eleanor does, too)—which his dad has a hard time with. But just like Eleanor's menswear, this move seems totally Park. Eleanor thinks Park looks like himself, "with the volume turned way up" (37.13). While their slightly gender-bending style ways might make Park and Eleanor outsiders, they also make them pretty perfect for each other.
Even though Park hates most sports, he does take taekwondo, and he's great at it. The kids at school assume Park knows martial arts because he's Asian, but really, it's because his Army vet dad pushed him toward it. Martial arts seems to be the one area of interest Park shares with his dad, even though he's a little frustrated at times that it makes him seem like a stereotypical Asian guy. Which is a reminder to everyone else that he doesn't exactly look or act like other kids. But as is Park's way, he does what he wants to without too much worry about other people's opinions.
Park's taekwondo is good enough that he takes down Steve, a relentless bully of Eleanor's, with a spectacular flying kick. It's the first and only time Park uses his skills aggressively. He may march to the beat of his own drum, but he can't stand how much kids pick on Eleanor, and he reaches his limit and lashes out.
Throughout the book, Park struggles with his dislike of the in crowd and his need to be accepted by them. Years ago, he dated Tina, the popular girl who bullies Eleanor at school, and he feels pretty conflicted about it. He knows dating Tina has helped him steer clear of school bullies, but his romance with Eleanor makes it impossible for Park to ignore the kids who tease her.
Even Eleanor understands that when Park stands up for her, he does it partly for himself. "I'm tired of them embarrassing you," he explains, but Eleanor's not sure. "Embarrassing me?" she says. "Or embarrassing you?" (22.50). We're thinking it's a little of both.
At his core, though, Park's a good guy. Like, a really good guy. The fact that he gave up his seat for a "weird girl" when he knew he'd be tortured for it? Yeah, his heart's in the right place. When he meets Eleanor, he recognizes a kindred spirit—someone just as bright, just as different, and just as good. And though her home life makes building a relationship with her hard, Park is never deterred, instead relishing the time they get together and doing everything he can to combat the harshness she meets at home with unwavering love.