Study Guide

Eleanor & Park Family

By Rainbow Rowell

Family

Chapter 2
Sabrina a.k.a. Eleanor's Mom

"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?

Chapter 4

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.

Chapter 8
Eleanor Douglas

"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?

Chapter 17
Eleanor Douglas

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.

Chapter 18
Sabrina a.k.a. Eleanor's Mom

"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?

Chapter 19
Sabrina a.k.a. Eleanor's Mom

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 b**** 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?

Chapter 21

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.

Chapter 27
Eleanor Douglas

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?

Chapter 32
Sabrina a.k.a. Eleanor's Mom

"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?