When the new girl with the weird clothes sits next to him on the bus, Park does his best to ignore her and hopes it is a one time thing. If she wants to draw attention to herself by dressing oddly, that’s her business, but the last thing he needs is for Steve and the other kids at the back of the bus to start picking on him, too. He’s done a good job of keeping his head down so far. When Eleanor gets on the bus for the first time, she knows the school year is going to suck. Everyone makes it clear that they don’t want her to sit with them, so she takes an open seat next to an Asian kid and does her best not to bother him. This is what she has come back to after her year of sleeping on a friend’s couch: a creepy stepfather who still hates her guts and a bus full of hateful high schoolers.
But as the year progresses, Eleanor and Park start to lower their barriers. They begin to acknowledge one another, to read comics together, to exchange music. And as their friendship grows into romance, they hesitantly allow one another to catch a glimpse into their deeper struggles, especially in their home lives.
It is hard to describe the brilliance of this book in a summary. My mother (also a librarian) recommended it to me with no summary saying, “Just read it. It’s wonderful.” And it is. It is one of those books where the words themselves are engaging. The imagery is fresh and interesting. Every word is deliberate. Every character is nuanced and realistic. The plot lines range from sappy and heartwarming to disgusting and horrifying. Realistic fiction love stories are not usually my genre (I usually require some sort of thriller/sci-fi subplot to cut through the sap), but this book is incredibly well-written–and gets some bonus points for the very subtle Romeo and Juliet parallels (starting with the title). I recommend it to teens and adults who like love stories and literary fiction.
If you liked Eleanor and Park, you might like Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler.