Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell starts on the first day of school in 1986. Park has been dreading this day since the summer began. His Walkman is blasting The Smiths at full volume as he tries to drown out the loud comments shouted by his classmates behind him on the bus. He is looking out the window, watching the world going by . . . when the bus stops. A girl walks on. She’s dressed in men’s clothing with unusual accessories all over her, her hair is red, curly, and not well kempt, and since Omaha, Nebraska, isn’t the biggest town in the world, he can tell right away that she is new. As she makes her way down the aisle, nobody moves. The driver starts to yell at her, the bus is ready to move and it doesn't look like she will find a seat anytime soon. Park reluctantly moves his books to make room for her, saying that she can sit next to him. And that day, Eleanor and Park were launched into something that would change their lives forever.
In the book, I felt a strong attachment to both characters, and I feel like them in certain ways. Eleanor Douglas is bright and sarcastic, but at the same time she goes through a struggle. She lives with her mother, her abusive and alcoholic stepfather, Richie, and her four younger siblings. All the brothers and sisters share one bedroom together and since they live in poverty, they cannot afford a phone. She has returned to the house, although Richie kicked her out. Not only does Eleanor feel like an outsider, so does Park Sheridan. The other kids tease Eleanor, which makes her a loner, but Park is just disconnected. He is an Asian American (because his father married a local woman after he served in the Korean War), which was not very common in 1986 Nebraska. Park’s home life is very relaxed compared to Eleanor’s. The only problem he has at home is that his father always pushes him to be more masculine, so most of the time he feels he’s letting his dad down, along with his family.
There’s always someone who feels left out, and this book really highlights it. It shows that no one is alone, and that really comforts me. Sometimes you don’t know everybody in a class or you don't have anyone to talk to and you don’t know what to do or you feel completely left out. That’ll happen someway or another, and you can’t really stop it. When Eleanor and Park fall in love, it is truly beautiful to me. Even though they are so different from everyone else and they never thought they would make a connection . . . they do. It is stunning. It’s like when you’ve been in a dark room for so long and you walk outside and you see the sun, the sky, the birds flying through the air, and you feel so fulfilled.
There’s a certain part of the book where Eleanor and Park’s relationship takes off.
Eventually, they get to a point where Park ends up holding her hand tenderly on the bus and their attraction pulls them together like a magnet. Eleanor doesn’t see her father often, but she’s finally going over to his house for the night to babysit his other child while he goes out to dinner with his girlfriend, and then the phone call takes place. Once Park found out that she could call him, he jumped at the chance to speak with her, and that was the night he told her he loved her. It wasn’t planned out, it wasn’t supposed to happen, but it did. Park soon regretted it. The entire night they talked and it had gone so well but when her dad finally arrived home she quickly left and he had just blurted it out. He was so worried. He thought he had messed things up but on the bus Monday morning, she came down the aisle and jumped next to him with the biggest smile on her face. You could call me sappy for enjoying this stuff, or too girly, but it just makes me happy to read this book.