Summary

Eleanor is a 15-year-old girl who recently moved back in with her mother, stepfather Ritchie, and 4 younger siblings after having been kicked out by her stepfather for a year. Her father is distant, emotionally negligent, and unavailable. Her mother is in a domestic violence relationship with Ritchie, which is primarily directed at her mom though also at the children, especially Eleanor. Ritchie also makes indirect sexual comments towards Eleanor. She meets Park by sitting next to him on the bus. They fall in love through comic books and music. Park is Korean American with an intense and impatient white dad and a younger but taller brother whom Park seems to live in the shadow of. Eleanor is bullied by white kids from the bus, gym, and class and befriends two black girls from gym. Park and Eleanor both struggle with what other people think of them and have honest, ugly, and complicated internal dialogues about themselves and each other.

Why Read

Eleanor’s life is constantly in crisis, and it shows. She is by no means emotionally healthy, she acts out often, usually against Park. He is very understanding, patient, supportive, and compassionate, while still being confused and hurt. Both Park and Eleanor have complicated internal dialogues about their own desirability and value. Rowell does an excellent job of showing realistic, often unlikeable characters, love each other deeply, hurt each other deeply, and make repairs to their relationship. Their love, with all the passion and mistakes, is so truthful to teen (and adult) dating. It’s refreshing to see romantic relationships that acknowledge and hold the relationship spectrum- neither perfect, nor abusive.

There are some heartbreaking and honest depictions of damaged family dynamics, the children manifest fear and learned comfort in different and age-appropriate ways. Educators are often trained to notice specific warnings signs of violence at home. Eleanor does not show these signs of abuse, so no educators are able to intervene. Ultimately, her peers are responsible for helping her survive an impossible and violent situation, highlighting the importance of youth education.

Since both Eleanor and Park have complicated and imperfect internal dialogues about fitting in and often project that onto each other—this review comes with a content warning: The first half of the book has racist remarks toward Park and towards black youth. Eleanor struggles with racism, and while she gets better, since it’s not the central theme of the book, the resolution does not fully heal the hurt. Park also struggles to stop judging Eleanor for things that are her genuine self-expression, the result of her being in severe poverty, or a combination of the two. This also is not fully resolved by the novel’s close.

Who Should Read It?

  • Secondary Survivors (friends and family of survivors)
  • Teens 13+
  • Folks trying to heal their inner child
  • Folks who don’t remember what it’s like to be in love as a teenager
  • Support system of angry teens
  • Educators

Author

  • Claudia Menchaca

    Claudia Menchaca is the Caldwell County Prevention Educator at the Hays-Caldwell Women's Center. They've taught many subjects over the years, but currently focus on healthy relationship skills for teens. They like chickens, snakes, bugs, and aquatic plants. Their hobbies include including visiting the river, reading, hosting movie nights, and being neighborly.

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