Since her mother brought Eleanor back to the house, she, and everyone else, has had to walk on eggshells. Their stepfather is not a nice man, and in particular, he hates Eleanor. In a house as tiny as theirs, it is all but impossible for her to escape him. Sharing a bedroom with her four siblings, worrying about whether or not they will have food each night, and listening to Richie beat her mother are just some of the reasons Eleanor has no interest in seeking friends in her new school. Never mind the fact that she dresses weird (in whatever her mother gets her from Goodwill), she isn't the skinniest girl, and her flaming red hair has a mind of its own. When she steps foot on the bus that first day, no one will let her sit down... until Park lets her sit with him.
Park isn't a complete outcast, but he isn't popular by any means either. He tries very hard to keep his head down and blend into the background. When he sees Eleanor, he feels bad, but girls like her are who keep the vicious attention of his peers off his own faults. Taking more after his Korean mother, he has always been too gentle, too feminine, and not manly enough for his former soldier father. He doesn't intend to be anyone's hero, but he can't let Eleanor stand in the aisle of the bus and cry the way those beasts want her to. So he tells her to sit. And that changes everything.
Eleanor and Park don't talk. He reads his comic books and she carefully tries to read them without letting him know she is peaking over his arm to see. He notices her reading the comics and starts turning the pages slower. Then he starts bringing her comics to borrow. All of this happens without a word shared between the two, but slowly, glacially, Park avoids Eleanor less and less. A few careful questions here, a kind gesture there, and the two find the human interaction they miss the most at the end of each day are the interactions they have together on those bus rides. But Eleanor has a lot to hide and is the target of many a malicious teen. And Park is very conscious of how her proximity affects his ability to camouflage himself from the other kids. Their backgrounds, self-consciousness, and situations should have prevented them from ever getting to know one another, but sometimes life's circumstances can't stop love from blossoming, no matter how hard it tries.
There is something you should know before you read this book. It has been raved about by bloggers, reviewers, booksellers, and readers everywhere. They are right. John Green gave this clip for the New York Times Book Review: "Eleanor and Park reminded me not just what it's like to be young and in love with a girl, but also what it's like to be young and in love with a book." He was right. Yalsa, Printz, and every other professional in the field loved this book. They were all right. If you are anything like me, you develop an immediate bias against a book when it receives instant and passionate acclaim. Why? I don't know. I guess the little rebel in us doesn't want to love what everyone loves. But that stupid generalization keeps us from books like Harry Potter, The Fault in Our Stars, and Eleanor & Park, so let's just stop this nonsense already, ok?! Because if we miss out on amazing books like this one, we are just silly little rebels who have lost out on a chance to read some seriously amazing books.