Not just new—but big and awkward. With crazy hair, bright red on top of curly. And she was dressed like… like she wanted people to look at her. Or maybe like she didn't get what a mess she was… Like something that wouldn't survive in the wild. (1.41)
When Park first sees Eleanor, he's almost shocked by how she looks. She's impossible not to notice, and he cringes inwardly, knowing she'll be a target for the kids on the bus.
When Eleanor was a little girl, she'd thought her mom looked like a queen, like the star of some fairy tale […] You'd look at Eleanor's mom and think she must be carved into the prow of a Viking ship somewhere or maybe painted on the side of a plane […](4.24-26)
Eleanor gives us an amazing description of her mom's beauty. Too bad it only lands her a string of terrible husbands.
Jesus, was she weird. Today she was dressed like a Christmas tree, with all this stuff pinned to her clothes, shapes cut out of fabric, ribbon […] (6.14)
Even though we her a lot of Eleanor's inner thoughts, we never hear Eleanor talk about why she decorates her clothes, or why she ties scarves on her wrists. Why do you think Rowell never has Eleanor mention all of her colorful decorations?
She had bobbed blond hair and hard, curled bangs, and she was the only kid in school with a Swatch. Kim was one of those people who never wrinkled […] She wouldn't make eye contact with Cal. (7.13)
Here's a great example of how appearances matter in high school: Park thinks he knows a lot about Kim because of how she looks.
If you don't want people to look at you, Park had thought at the time, don't wear fishing lures in your hair. (7.30)
So Eleanor probably doesn't want people looking at her—but she wears stuff in her hair. Maybe she figures her hair's eye-catching enough already? She's fighting a losing battle? Whatever the reason, we love it.
He looked exactly like a rat. Like the human being version of a rat […] Who knew what her mom saw in him; Eleanor's dad was messed-up looking, too. (10.10)
Eleanor's vision is so tainted by Richie's personality that she can't see him as anything but ugly. In this case, what's outside definitely reflects what's inside.
He did have really cute hair. Really, really… It was completely straight and almost completely black, which, on Park, seemed like a lifestyle choice. He always wore black, practically head to toe. (16.25)
How great is it that Eleanor thinks Park's naturally black hair seems like a "lifestyle choice"? We love how both of these characters totally adore how the other one looks.
"And you look like a protagonist." She was talking as fast as she could think. "You look like a person who wins in the end. You're so pretty, and so good. You have magic eyes," she whispered. (19.358)
Eleanor actually tells Park, here, that he looks like a protagonist. (Guess what, Eleanor?) It's a great way of expressing how she feels about Park—her feelings about him really affect how she sees him.
God, what must his dad be like? He looked just like Tom Selleck... The whole family was cute. Even his white brother. His mom looked exactly like a doll. (21.115-116)
Eleanor's initially really intimidated when she meets Park's family, because she thinks they all look so perfect. The neat, happy Sheridan house is so different from her own home. Interesting that Eleanor refers to Josh as Park's "white" brother, isn't it? Park always says he looks much more Asian than Josh does.
Eleanor was right: She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn't supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something. (27.60)
This quote, right here—can we frame it? Because this quote is art, too. What an awesome sentiment from Park. Here's why appearances can be so important.
"Are you retarded?" Steve said. "His mom's Chinese."
Mikey looked at Park carefully. Park smiled and narrowed his eyes. "Yeah, I guess I see it," Mikey said. "I always thought you were Mexican."
"Shit, Mikey," Steve said, "you're such a fucking racist."
"She's not Chinese," Tina said. "She's Korean." (1.26-29)
This conversation is a politically incorrect disaster, isn't it? This exchange between the kids on the bus in the opening chapter of Eleanor & Park really illustrates the clueless racism that happens at Eleanor and Park's school.
She pulled it out of the way and started to say sorry—but it was that stupid Asian kid, and he frowned when he saw that it was her. (2.25)
Even Eleanor thinks of Park as that "stupid Asian kid" when she first sees him, and internally, she calls him that for a while. Park's right—it's the first thing anyone sees.
Except she said it, In hee-ya! Because she was apparently never going to stop sounding like she just got here yesterday from Korea. Sometimes Park thought she kept the accent on purpose, because his dad liked it. But his mom tried so hard to fit in every other way… If she could sound like she grew up right around the corner, she would. (6.26)
Even though Park's mom tries to fit in—and mostly succeeds, given her popular business—she can never truly fit in, because her accent will always set her apart. Park's always been aware of his mom's efforts to be like everyone else.
Most of the kids here were black, but most of the kids in her honors classes were white. They got bused in from west Omaha. And the white kids from the Flats, dishonor students, got bused in from the other direction. (7.42)
At Eleanor and Park's school, it's easy to see dividing lines like race and class, as Eleanor describes here. ("Dishonor students"—too clever, Eleanor.)
"Now there's a girl who might want a piece of you," Cal said. "Looks like somebody's got jungle fever."
"That isn't even the right kind of racist," Park said, looking up. (7.25-26)
More cluelessness, this time from Park's good friend Cal. Goes to show that even Park's friends don't think twice about making racist comments.
(Stupid, perfect Asian kid.) (10.5)
Even when Eleanor's falling for Park, she never stops thinking of him this way, which reflects the culture she's grown up in—the stereotype of Asians as "perfect" is a pretty typical one.
Eleanor couldn't figure out what an Asian person was doing in the Flats anyway. Everybody else here was seriously white. Like, white by choice. Eleanor had never even heard the N-word said out loud until she moved here, but the kids on her bus used it like it was the only way to indicate that somebody was black. Like there was no other word or phrase that would work. (12.31)
Because she's new to the neighborhood, Eleanor's picked up on the complete lack of diversity in the Flats—and the racism that comes with it.
Eleanor had only known one Asian person in her life—Paul, who was in her math class at her old school. […] Paul was the one who'd taught Eleanor to say Asian and not oriental. "Oriental's for food," he'd said.
"Whatever, La Choy Boy," she'd said back. (12.28-30)
This goes to show how rare Asian people are in Eleanor's neighborhood—if she's only known one Asian person before, Park is the second one she's met. Ever. Her response to Paul is pretty insensitive, right? And we wouldn't generally categorize Eleanor as insensitive.
"I mean, you don't seem like you're from here…"
"Because I'm Korean?"
"I guess I don't really know what that means."
"Me neither," he said. (19.146-151)
So this is a really important thing about Park: Even though the world thinks he's Asian, and therefore an outsider, he has no idea what his Korean heritage even means. It's all about appearances, isn't it?
Their grandmother looked nothing but Irish. Or maybe Park only thought that because everyone in his dad's family made such a big deal about being Irish. Park got a Kiss Me, I'm Irish T-shirt every year for Christmas. (20.21)
Amazing that Park's half-Irish, and his grandparents even make a big deal about it, and yet no one even considers that Park might be anything other than Asian. In fact, Park's family is one of those old, established Nebraska families. Go figure, right?
"I have to sit somewhere," the girl said to Tina in a firm, calm voice. (1.55)
From the first minute we meet Eleanor, we can see she's not going to shrink away from a bully, even a bully as nasty as Tina. It takes a lot of guts to remain calm in this kind of situation.
If this had happened two summers ago, Eleanor would have run and banged on the door herself. She would have yelled at Richie to stop. She would have called 911 at the very, very least. But now that seemed like something a child would do, or a fool. (10.19)
Courage isn't always about standing up to an attacker. Eleanor's shown a lot of bravery dealing with Richie, but she's smart enough to know when her actions just won't help.
"I know what you're up to," he said, raising his voice, just as the door closed. "Nothing but a bitch in heat."
Eleanor let his words hit her full-on. Took them right in the chin. (14.106-107)
Richie says terrifying things, and Eleanor just takes them. We're picturing her here as some sort of knight with a big shield, deflecting fire from a dragon.
"If I ever hear you call her that again, I'll kill you. I'll literally kill you. I'll go to jail for the rest of my life, and it'll break Mom's heart, but I will. Kill. You." (19.100)
So here's Park, reacting to Josh calling Eleanor one of the nicknames the bullies use at school. Even though it's not the easiest thing for Park to admit that Eleanor is his girlfriend, once he admits it, he's ready to defend her to the death. Although we kind of doubt he'd really kill his own brother, it's a noble sentiment.
She went up to the hall closet, found three brand-new toothbrushes, and shoved them into the front of her pants, along with a bar of Dove soap. Donna might have seen her […] but she didn't say anything.
Eleanor felt sorry for Donna. Her dad never laughed at anyone's jokes but his own. (20.4-5)
So here's Eleanor, out of her own house for the first time in a long time, and what does she do? She steals toothbrushes for her siblings. And while she's doing it, she can only think of how sorry she is for her dad's new wife. This is one part courage, and one part total selflessness.
"I'm ending this."
"No. Come on. It's not worth it."
"You are," he said fiercely, looking at her. "You're worth it." (22.46-48)
Here's Park, once again in the role of Eleanor's knight in armor—not that she really wants a knight in armor. But Park's ready to defend her against anyone and anything, no matter what. (And he might be a little bit motivated to stop the bullying because it would make his own life easier, too.)
Park lifted his head. His whole face was covered with blood. He staggered forward and the assistant principal caught him. "Leave… my girlfriend… alone." (22.70)
Kicking the king of the popular crowd in the face? Calling social outcast Eleanor your girlfriend in front of most of the school? Yeah, we'd call that pretty brave.
The next time she called 911, she was going to request cops who wouldn't send her alone into an unoccupied building. Did firemen do this, too? Hey, kid, you go in first and unlock the door. (24.29)
Eleanor shows a huge amount of grace under fire when she sneaks to her neighbor's house to call 911 after hearing gunfire at her house one night. And only Eleanor could carry on a funny internal monologue while she's in a terrifying situation. The fact that the cops sent her back into her house after she heard gunshots? No wonder she doesn't feel too confident calling them about Richie.
"No," she said firmly, squeezing her hands into fists, "this is exactly the sort of thing I shouldn't take seriously […] If they think they're getting to me? They'll never leave me alone." (30.77)
Eleanor knows things will get much worse if she shows emotion in front of the bullies at school, but it still takes a lot of bravery to be as stoic as she is.
"Smarter than I ever was," her mom said. "And braver. I haven't been on my own since the eighth grade." (43.84)
This quote from Sabrina is a really crucial insight into Sabrina's motivations, and it's a sad truth. Sabrina admits, here, that she's afraid of being alone—so afraid that she's constantly been with a terrible partner for her entire life. Amazing that she admires Eleanor's bravery for being without a guy (even though Eleanor does actually have Park at this point), and says she's never been brave enough to be without one.
"I told him you were ready to be part of this family."
"I'm already part of this family. I'm like a charter member." (2.20-21)
Eleanor has this conversation with her mom after Eleanor was kicked out of the house for a year. This is a great example of the way Richie has divided Eleanor's family—Eleanor's mom is implying that Eleanor chose not to be part of the family, when it was Richie who kicked Eleanor out. Eleanor has to remind her mom that she was actually in the family long before Richie was… but it doesn't seem that way anymore, does it?
But when Eleanor walked in the house, it was like her siblings didn't recognize her. (4.3)
Wow. This stunning moment, when Eleanor returns after a year away, shows how much her family has changed under Richie's influence. What kind of family kicks a kid out for a year, and doesn't welcome her back with open arms? Eleanor's family, apparently. This must have been really rough for Eleanor.
"God. You, too? Why do you guys call him that?" She tried not to sound angry.
Ben shrugged. "I guess because he's married to Mom."
"Yeah, but—" Eleanor ran her hands up and down the swing chains, then smelled them. "—we never used to call him that. Do you feel like he's your dad?"
"I don't know," Ben said flatly. "What's that supposed to feel like?" (8.23-26)
Here's another example of how Eleanor's family has changed with Richie in charge: Eleanor's siblings call him Dad, even though they're terrified of him… or maybe because they're terrified of him. The worst part is, since Eleanor's dad was also a jerk, Ben has no idea what it might be like to have a loving dad. Does Richie seem like someone you'd want to call Dad?
There was no use telling her dad anything. Eleanor had known that for so long, she couldn't even remember figuring it out. (17.41)
Before you meet Eleanor's dad, you might wonder where he is, and why he'd let someone like Richie hurt his kids. But as soon as he shows up, we understand—he's so self-centered, he doesn't even know where his kids live anymore.
"Richie is the head of this household," her mom said. "Richie is the one who puts food on our table." […] Richie would say no just for the pleasure of saying it. It would make him feel like the King of Spain. Which was probably why her mom wanted to give him the chance. (18.16)
Another great example of Richie's dictator-like control over Eleanor's family. Not only does Eleanor's mom serve him a separate (and much better) dinner, she defers to him with every major decision. Why do we want to sing "Under My Thumb" right now?
Her mom actually kissed Eleanor good-bye at the door and told her to have fun, and to call the neighbors if things got weird with her dad. Right, Eleanor thought, I'll be sure to call you if Dad's fiancée calls me a bitch and then makes me use a bathroom without a door. Oh, wait… (19.5)
Here's a serious reality check on how bad Eleanor's family life is—and how little perspective her mom seems to have. Her mom's worried about Eleanor going to see her dad, when Eleanor can't even use the bathroom in her own house? Um, what?
Park's family didn't fit. They were the Cleavers. And he'd told her that his grandparents lived in the house next door, which had flower boxes, for Christ's sake. His family was practically the Waltons.
Eleanor's family had been messed up even before Richie came around and sent everything straight to hell. (21.122-123)
Some amazing perspective from Eleanor—she feels like her messed-up family at least helps her fit into the neighborhood. She can't believe a nice, well-adjusted family like Park's actually exists in the Flats.
She told herself that Park's family must be decent people because they'd raised a person like Park. Never mind that this principle didn't hold true in her own family. (27.41)
A totally crucial idea: Eleanor imagines that Park's family must be a nice family because of Park, even though she knows that's not true in her own family. Why do you think Eleanor believes this?
"We're a family, Eleanor. All of us. Richie, too. And I'm sorry that that makes you so unhappy. I'm sorry that things aren't perfect here all the time for you... But this is our life now. You can't keep throwing tantrums about it, you can't keep trying to undermine this family... I won't let you."
She almost sounded sane, Eleanor thought. If you didn't know that she was acting rational on the far side of crazy. (32.39-42)
So Sabrina thinks Eleanor's undermining the family? Is that really what's happening in Eleanor's house? Something doesn't line up. Do you think Sabrina is right, to try to bring Richie and the kids together? Do you think she has a choice?
That girl—all of them—hated Eleanor before they'd even laid eyes on her. Like they'd been hired to kill her in a past life. (2.9)
Immediately, Eleanor's isolated from her peers because of how she looks. They take one look at her and decide they're going to shun her. She doesn't even have a chance, does she?
There were moments—not just today, moments every day since they'd met—when Eleanor made him self-conscious, when he saw people talking and he was sure they were talking about them. Raucous moments on the bus when he was sure that everyone was laughing at them. (18.87)
Park's friendship with Eleanor comes at a cost: It cuts him off from the rest of his class. He can't imagine bringing her to a school dance, or inviting other kids to hang out with them. It's almost like they have to exist in their own separate universe.
It wouldn't do any good to tell him that she hadn't been that girl at her old school. Yeah, she'd been made fun of before. There were always mean boys—and there were always, always mean girls—but she'd had friends at her old school. (18.49)
Interesting that Eleanor tells us she wasn't always badly bullied—she wasn't "that girl," she says. This school is different. Why do you think Eleanor was immediately singled out? What does that say about the culture at Park's school?
His dad looked at Park like he always did, like he was trying to figure out what the fuck was wrong with him. (19.101)
Do you think Park feels like he fits in, when his dad looks at him like this? No? We didn't think so.
"That's not what I meant, though. I meant… that you're different from the other people in the neighborhood, you know?"
Of course he knew. They'd all been telling him so his whole life. (19.160-161)
Here's another way Park feels isolated: his race. It's kind of amazing, isn't it? Park says he doesn't even know what it means to be Korean. But again, just like Eleanor, Park's set apart by his looks.
"I hate meeting new people," she whispered.
"Because they never like me." (21.89-91)
Eleanor's nervous to meet Park's mom—she feels like no one likes her when they first meet her. Based on how she's treated by her family, it's no wonder she approaches the world this way.
She would never belong in Park's living room. She never felt like she belonged anywhere, except for when she was lying on her bed pretending to be somewhere else. (21.124)
Here's the bottom line: Eleanor doesn't feel like she belongs anywhere. She doesn't even really have a physical space that's her own in her family's home. This is another aspect of isolation—feeling like you don't fit in anywhere.
He knew it wasn't Eleanor's fault that she didn't have a phone, and that her house was the Fortress of Solitude, but… Jesus. It made it so easy for her to cut herself off whenever she felt like it. (31.4)
Isolation is kind of a double-edged sword for Eleanor. It seems like sometimes she wants to be isolated, doesn't it? But it sure isn't hard for her to disappear, because her family is completely cut off, too.
"Because I'm interested. It's like you've got all these weird barriers set up, like you only want me to have access to this tiny part of you..."
"Yes," she said, crossing her arms. "Barriers. Caution tape. I'm doing you a favor."
"Don't," he said. "I can handle it." (33.51-53)
So here's one reason Eleanor cuts herself off: She wants to protect Park from the nightmarish truth about her family. Eleanor wants to keep Park as separate from her family as possible, and given Richie's appetite for destruction, we understand why.
She wondered where the rest of the stuff from the old house had ended up. Not just her stuff, but everybody's. Like the furniture and the toys, and all of her mom's plants and paintings […] Maybe it was packed away somewhere. Maybe her mom was hoping the cave-troll house was just temporary.
Eleanor was still hoping that Richie was just temporary. (4.43-44)
Before Richie, Eleanor's home was troubled, but still far more like a normal home. When Richie takes over, even their possessions disappear—he's completely erased their former life.
It was weird to come home and see her mom, just standing in the kitchen, like… like normal. She was making soup, chopping onions. Eleanor felt like crying. (4.16)
Eleanor's home life is so atypical that the sight of her mom doing a normal task like cooking triggers a really emotional response in Eleanor. It's a clue that these normal moments have probably been few and far between.
That's how Park's dad came home every night, like the dad in a sitcom. (Lucy?) (6.25)
In total contrast to the nightmare at Eleanor's house, Park's house is as squeaky-clean and happy as a sitcom. The most unusual part? None of it's fake.
She wouldn't talk about her family or her house. She wouldn't talk about anything that happened before she moved to the neighborhood or anything that happened after she got off the bus. (19.182)
Eleanor knows her home is something she wants to keep to herself, because she thinks Park won't like her if he knows about it. She doesn't want to be linked to such an awful place—and she doesn't think it's really hers, anyway.
Every Sunday, they got dressed up, in nice pants and sweaters, and had dinner with their grandparents. (20.15)
Not only does Park come from a loving home, he lives next door to his grandparents. This slice of his family's life (a formal weekly dinner with his relatives) is in total contrast to Eleanor's home, which is cut off from any extended family.
It was just too much. Meeting his pretty, perfect mom. Seeing his normal, perfect house. Eleanor hadn't known there were houses like that in this crappy neighborhood—houses with wall-to-wall carpeting and little baskets of potpourri everywhere. She didn't know there were families like that. (21.121)
Park's "normal, perfect" house is almost a shock to Eleanor, and given her own home, she has a very hard time feeling comfortable at Park's.
Eleanor wanted to feel superior to Park's mom and her Avon-lady house. But instead, she kept thinking about how nice it must be to live in a house like this one. With your own room. And your own parents. And six different kinds of cookies in the cupboard. (27.59)
Eleanor, who has a natural discomfort with anything mainstream, doesn't want to like Park's house, but she can't help envying all the creature comforts that her own home doesn't have. And, you know, having parents like Park's would be kind of nice, too.
You'd think that nobody interesting could grow up in a house as nice and boring as this one—but Park was the smartest, funniest guy she'd ever met, and this was his home planet. (27.58)
Eleanor sees Park's edgy, outsider style as a total mystery once she sees his home. Goes to show that someone's home isn't always a reflection of their personality… which is also true in Eleanor's case.
The only safe time to take a bath in her house was right after school. If Eleanor went over to Park's house right after school, she had to hope that Richie would still be at the Broken Rail when she got home that night. And then she had to take a really fast bath because the back door was right across from the bathroom, and it could open at any time. (34.81)
This chilling description of the strategies Eleanor uses to take a bath not only show what a threat Richie is, but how challenging it is for Eleanor to even exist in her own home. Except, this isn't really her home. Is it?
Nobody brought friends into their house. Not the little kids. Not even Richie. And her mom didn't have friends anymore. (34.67)
Richie's isolated Eleanor's family so completely that their home has become almost like a jail—except the kids aren't even allowed to play inside. If Richie could get rid of the kids and keep Sabrina in a sealed bubble, we think he would.
Laughing at Eleanor was Dr. King's mountain. (6.6)
Here's a quote that makes you stop for a minute. What does Eleanor mean? She's referring to Dr. Martin Luther King's final speech. Is she saying that other kids see bullying her as the greatest goal in life? This is one serious metaphor.
What were they going to do when it got cold—and when it started getting dark early? Would they all hide in the bedroom? It was crazy. Diary-of-Anne-Frank crazy. (6.32)
Is Eleanor out of line for comparing her home situation to Anne Frank's life spent hiding from the Nazis? The level of terror and suffering Eleanor's family experiences might be similar—they're afraid for their physical safety most of the time.
Her mom kept squeezing Eleanor's hand… Eleanor had pretended not to notice the bruises on her mom's wrist. (6.37)
Eleanor notices visible evidence of her mom's abuse throughout the story, but she never says anything to her mom. Even though Eleanor can always hear her mom screaming and crying at night, this is one topic they never address.
When it was worse than bedsprings, when it was shouting or crying, they'd huddle together, all five of them, on Eleanor's bed. (6.48)
Eleanor describes many scenes where she comforts her younger siblings at night when they hear Richie abuse Sabrina. What's most upsetting about this situation, perhaps, is that the little kids can hear everything that's going on, whether it's bedsprings or shouting.
Tina pushed roughly past Eleanor and climbed onto the bus. She had everybody else in their gym class calling Eleanor Bozo, but Tina had already moved on to Raghead and Bloody Mary […] It made sense that Tina was in Eleanor's gym class—because gym class was an extension of hell, and Tina was definitely a demon. (6.3)
Within minutes of showing up at her new school, Eleanor becomes a target for every bully on campus. Tina takes a particularly special interest in making Eleanor's life miserable. Relentless name-calling? Just the tip of the iceberg.
She usually took her bath right after school, before Richie got home. It took a lot of the stress out of not having a bathroom door, especially since somebody'd torn down the sheet. (7.14)
Eleanor spends a lot of time thinking about how to take baths at home. She never explicitly explains why she can't bathe with Richie around, but we can take a guess; her mom seems to understand that Eleanor can't bathe with Richie there either. Hmm, we wonder who took down the bathroom door—and then the sheet that replaced it?
Now, all she could think about was what they were going to do if the baby actually started to cry. Thank God he didn't. Even he seemed to realize that trying to make this stop would only ever make it worse. (10.19)
Here's the reason Eleanor's siblings always listen to Richie in a nutshell, and why Sabrina listens to him, too: They all believe there's literally nothing they can do about it. Calling the cops in this town doesn't seem at all effective, and Richie will only get angrier.
A horrible thought came to her, and she got up, stumbling over the kids and the blankets. She opened the door and smelled bacon.
Which meant that her mother was alive. (10.21-22)
How scary is your life if you wake up in the morning and wonder if your mom made it through the night? Just think about that for a minute.
Conversations with her dad were like whiplash; they didn't always hurt right away. (17.81)
Here's another kind of suffering Eleanor experiences: not abuse, but neglect. She was raised by a father who simply didn't care.
She couldn't believe she'd let him see that on her book. It was one thing to let him see her crazy life a little bit at a time… So, yeah, I have a terrible stepdad, and I don't have a phone, and sometimes when we're out of dish soap, I wash my hair with flea and tick shampoo…"(18.42)
Eleanor's poverty is another factor that causes her a lot of worry and discomfort. She can't buy batteries, doesn't have a phone, has no way to listen to music, and generally almost no possessions. She stresses out about not having a toothbrush. Seriously, what kind of family doesn't buy toothbrushes for their kids? Eleanor's family.
His dad barreled into the kitchen and scooped his mom into his arms. They did this every night, too. Full-on make-out sessions, no matter who was around. (6.27)
Park's parents' relationship is a case of love that's lasted a very long time. They're practically teenagers every time they see each other.
"Romeo and Juliet are just two rich kids who've always gotten every little thing they want. And now, they think they want each other."
"They're in love…" Mr. Stessman said, clutching his heart.
"They don't even know each other."
"It was love at first sight."
"It was 'Oh my God, he's so cute' at first sight… it's Shakespeare making fun of love." (10.41-45)
Pay attention to Eleanor here, because she tells us something important: She thinks that Romeo and Juliet, one of literature's most beloved romantic tragedies, isn't romantic at all. She seems pretty cynical about the whole concept of love at first sight, but insofar as this book is about two young lovers, with family keeping them apart, we're thinking Romeo and Juliet sound a little more like Park and Eleanor than Eleanor might like to admit.
"Because…" he said quietly, looking at his desk, "because people want to remember what it's like to be young? And in love?" (10.50)
Here's Park's take on why Romeo and Juliet is so important. His opinion is a little more romantic, isn't it? Do you think Eleanor and Park's own story is more like Eleanor's opinion of Romeo and Juliet, or Park's?
Holding Eleanor's hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive. (15.35)
We're swooning. Could there be a more beautiful description of what it's like to be in love? We don't think so.
Or maybe, he thought now, he just didn't recognize all those other girls. The way a computer drive will spit out a disk if it doesn't recognize the formatting. When he touched Eleanor's hand, he recognized her. He knew. (15.43)
This is a really amazing metaphor that tells us how Park feels about Eleanor. It's so much more than "she's so cute," isn't it? We love the idea of recognizing someone you're just getting to know.
Park touched her hands like they were something rare and precious, like her fingers were intimately connected to the rest of her body. Which, of course, they were. It was hard to explain. He made her feel like more than the sum of her parts. (16.7)
Park makes Eleanor feel cherished, appreciated, and understood. Even though he's never been in a relationship like this, Park's really good at letting Eleanor know how he feels about her. That's one of the reasons the two of them just… work.
Sometimes it seemed like she would never be able to give Park anything like what he'd given her. It was like he dumped all this treasure on her every morning without even thinking about it, without any sense of what it was worth. (19.58)
Eleanor may be thinking about music here, but we think this is a metaphor for everything Park's given Eleanor. The mix tapes were great, but love? Love's even better.
"I don't like you, Park," she said, sounding for a second like she actually meant it. "I..."—her voice nearly disappeared—"think I live for you." (19.308)
Eleanor doesn't tell Park she loves him, in so many words, but she says a lot of things like this. Park has no trouble telling Eleanor he loves her, and he tells her many times. Why doesn't Eleanor say those three little words?
"Nothing before you counts," he said. "And I can't even imagine an after." (40.31)
Park's done. He's telling Eleanor: You're it. There will never be anyone else. It's a huge declaration, isn't it?
"I love you," he said.
She looked up at him, her eyes shiny and black, then looked away. "I know," she said…
"You know?" he repeated. She smiled, so he kissed her. "You're not the Han Solo in this relationship, you know."
"I'm totally the Han Solo," she whispered. (42.57-60)
Eleanor and Park keep their sense of humor even in the most dramatic moments, dropping in a Star Wars reference that's a hilarious parallel. We love that their relationship is intense, but relaxed enough that they don't have to be serious all the time. What do you think, Star Wars fans, is Eleanor the Han Solo? She might be.
Today the girl was wearing a giant man's shirt with seashells all over it. The collar must have been really big, like disco-big, because she'd cut it, and it was fraying. She had a man's necktie wrapped around her ponytail like a big polyester ribbon. She looked ridiculous. (7.6)
Eleanor doesn't just wear men's shirts—she wears ties, too. Except she takes the idea of wearing a tie and flips it upside down. So we've got a girl wearing a men's tie, but using it as a ponytail ribbon. Yep, those traditional gender roles are looking a little scrambled.
"The X-Men aren't sexist," he said, shaking his head. "They're a metaphor for acceptance; they've sworn to protect a world that hates and fears them."
"Yeah," she said, "but—"
"There's no but," he said, laughing.
"But," Eleanor insisted, "the girls are all so stereotypically girly and passive. Half of them just think really hard. Like that's their superpower, thinking. And Shadowcat's power is even worse—she disappears." (14.49-52)
We love how Eleanor thinks about the women in comic books: Even though there are heroines in these comics, Eleanor points out that their powers are very stereotypical.
When Tina liked Park instead of Steve in grade school, Steve had said, "I think she feels safe with you because you're like half-girl." 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)
Here are a few great reasons why Park feels different from a stereotypical guy. Imagine growing up with Park's dad and hating hunting and football—we get why Park doesn't think his dad understands him.
His mom was a beautician who sold Avon. She never left the house without touching up her mascara. When Patti Smith was on Saturday Night Live, his mom had gotten upset—"Why she want to look like man? It's so sad."
Eleanor, today, was wearing her sharkskin suit jacket and an old plaid cowboy shirt. She had more in common with his grandpa than his mom. (21.28-29)
Park's mom loves traditional "girly" beauty so much that she can't even imagine why a woman would want to look any different. No wonder she has such a hard time understanding Eleanor at first.
Park didn't know if Eleanor even had any girls' clothes—and he didn't care. He kind of liked that she didn't. Maybe that was another gay thing about him, but he didn't think so, because Eleanor wouldn't look like a guy even if you cut off her hair and gave her a mustache. All the men's clothes she wore just called attention to how much of a girl she was. (27.30)
So maybe Eleanor wears men's clothing because she wants to look different… Maybe she just feels more comfortable… Or maybe she doesn't want anyone to think of her as a girl. Whatever the reason, Park thinks there's no way not to notice Eleanor's femininity. What do you think Eleanor would say to that?
"But I don't wear makeup."
Maybe Eleanor should say that she wasn't allowed to. That would sound nicer than, because makeup is a lie. (35.72-74)
Eleanor thinks makeup is "a lie" when she wears it, but she just loves it on Park. Why? And why does she think it's a lie, anyway?
"Park," she said, "do you… want to look like girl? Is that what this about? Eleanor dress like boy. You look like girl?"
"No…" Park said. "I just like it. I like the way it feels."
"No," he said. "Like myself." (36.11-14)
A really important thought, here, from Park: He doesn't wear makeup because he wants to feel like a girl; he just likes wearing it, no strings attached. But by doing that, Park's taking the idea of makeup and challenging whether it's just for girls, or not.
Park wondered if it was just the eyeliner that had done it—or if the eyeliner had been the pencil that broke the camel's back. Like Park had spent sixteen years acting weak and weird and girlie, and his dad had borne it on his massive shoulders. And then one day, Park put on makeup, and that was it, his dad just shrugged him off. (38.56)
Was the eyeliner the final straw for Park's dad? We don't think so, but we do think Park's onto something here. Seeing a visual reminder of Park's differences was probably difficult for Jamie.
"Well, I'm not the Princess Leia," he said.
"Don't get so hung up on gender roles," Eleanor said. (42.63-64)
Park, you are so the Princess Leia. But don't worry, she has all the funniest lines.
They walked out to the Impala, and Park opened the door for Eleanor. "I can open my own door," she said. And by the time he got to his side, she'd leaned over the seat and pushed his door open. (45.29)
This is just one little way Eleanor challenges stereotypes, but all these little ways add up. She even opens Park's door here. Didn't we say he's Princess Leia, anyway?
At first, her mom would call Eleanor at the Hickman's almost every day after school. After a few months, the calls stopped. It turned out that Richie hadn't paid the phone bill, and it got disconnected. But Eleanor didn't know that for a while. (8.42)
That last sentence—wham. The thought that Eleanor didn't know why her mom wasn't calling hits like a truck.
Eleanor was only supposed to stay with them for a few days, maybe a week. Just until Richie cooled down and let her come home. (8.40)
The details of Eleanor's time at the Hickman's are revealed slowly. It wasn't so bad initially, right? Just a few days. It's all fine… until her mom doesn't call her for six months.
Her mom hadn't said anything like that since Eleanor moved home. She seemed to realize that she'd lost her right to knock. (10.13)
Yeah, when you leave your kid somewhere for a year, things are going to change, aren't they?
"I don't actually have a home number," Eleanor said.
"Ah," Mrs. Dunne said, "I see. Would your dad know that?"
"Probably not," Eleanor said. She was surprised he even knew what school she went to. (17.24-26)
Here's a subtle way Eleanor deals with her dad's abandonment. Did he know she was living with the neighbors for a year? Did Eleanor's mom consider taking Eleanor to her dad's house? We think "no" is probably the answer to both of those questions.
He still lived in the same duplex he'd lived in since her parents split up. It was solid and brick, and about a ten-minute drive from Eleanor's school. (19.33)
This is another jaw-dropping thought—Eleanor's dad lives only ten minutes from her school, and he has no idea what's going on in Richie's house, does he? He's really not that far away, yet he doesn't have a clue. That practically takes effort.
Their dad couldn't stand having them even for a few days. He used to pick them up from their mom's house, then drop them off at his mom's house, while he went off and did whatever it was that he did on the weekend. (19.8)
Eleanor's dad really sent a clear message that he didn't want Eleanor and her siblings at all. He didn't have the kids during the week, and when he did have them, he left them with his mom. Father of the year, right? Not so much.
He was always dropping hints about her weight. Well, he used to, anyway. Maybe when he stopped caring about her altogether, he'd stopped caring about that, too. (19.2)
Eleanor hints here that maybe there was a point when her dad did care about her a tiny bit, but that time has long since passed.
And if Richie had been inside waiting for her, maybe she would have dropped to her knees and begged him to let her stay. Maybe she would have said anything he wanted her to. (25.58)
Wow. Eleanor's saying she would rather have stayed with Richie, instead of being abandoned. In that last sentence, she sounds a lot like her mom, doesn't she?
Where would she go this time? Back to the Hickmans? Hey, remember that time when my mom asked if I could stay with you guys for a few days, and then she didn't come back for a year? I really appreciate the fact that you didn't turn me into Child Protective Services. That was very Christian of you. Do you still have that foldout couch? (25.14)
As the story goes on, we find out a few more details about Eleanor's time at the Hickmans. She was worried that she'd be turned into the foster care system, and slept on a temporary couch. All of this adds up: Eleanor doesn't have a place she clearly belongs.
Maybe her mom realized that she'd pretty much forfeited the right to ask questions for all eternity when she dumped Eleanor at somebody's house for a year. (31.20)
Here's another example of how things have changed between Eleanor and her mom. We sense Eleanor might be a little bitter, here. Actually, maybe a little more than bitter. What do you think?