My Review: Eleanor is the new kid at school. After being separated from her mother and siblings for months she is excited for this second chance. Yet as she gets on the bus the first day it quickly becomes clear that fitting in will be difficult. Eleanor has bright red hair and is a larger girl. Add in her eccentric clothing along with the fact her family is extremely poor and her chances of being accepted quickly diminish altogether. She is ridiculed and bullied. She is called all kinds of vulgar names, and is the victim of humiliating pranks. Unfortunately her stepfather is also a bully at home. Nowhere is peaceful for Eleanor.
Park is a part-Asian kid growing up in a white neighborhood. He has lived his entire life in this small Nebraska town, as did his father and his father’s parents before that. The other kids accept him and yet he doesn’t quite fit in either. Park has some friends and a loving home life, yet he can’t help but feel like a misfit with his small stature and subpar athletic abilities. Park is struggling to find his true identity while pleasing others by pretending to be someone he is not.
Together Eleanor and Park make an unlikely pair. Their friendship, which begins in the most timid manner, quickly turns romantic and the two fall in love. The setup of the story works remarkably well as the reader gets to know Park and Eleanor at the same time the two become more familiar with each other. Secrets appear as together the two gain more security as individuals. They give each other strength and confidence so that in time each is able to address his/her individual struggles.
The story is set in the 1980’s, a time before cell phones and internet. The descriptions of the mixed tapes and the letters Eleanor and Park exchange are delightful. This love language may not resonate with today’s young readers well, yet the feelings the two have for each other are undeniable. The bullying and the difficult life choices the two must make are timeless, easily spanning the generations.
The book does contain offensive language. This is the type of language that can be heard at any school as a teen is bullied and serves to make the story more authentic. Park and Eleanor's budding relationship is also intimately explored. There is some kissing and touching, but the author is light-handed with the detail. The two do briefly contemplate taking their relationship to the next level but do not follow through. Eleanor and Park are bright, funny, articulate kids. The choices they make are respectable in almost every situation. Readers could certainly learn some valuable lessons from this pair.
If I were to complain about one aspect of this book it would be the character of Eleanor’s mother. I despised the selfish choices she makes throughout the story and her weak attempts to make peace with Eleanor. She seems to sense the discourse going on in Eleanor’s life and yet makes no move to lighten it. Her character felt authentic and really was needed to properly depict Eleanor’s tough situation but I still disliked her immensely.
My Rating: 4 stars
To Sum it up: A coming-of-age story that explores those tough choices of adolescence and also provides a trip down memory lane for those of us that grew up in the 80’s and early 90’s.
Sensitive readers: As I have previously pointed out there is some explicit language used, no more than would be heard through the hallways of most high schools. There are also a couple intimate situations but nothing too detailed and it does not go beyond some touching and kissing. I felt both were tasteful done and needed to make the story genuine.