“Eleanor & Park”: a different love story for romantics

Danielle Nelson, Online Editor

Behind the scenes of every family, there is a side they don’t wish for anyone to see.

Eleanor steps onto the bus on her first day at a new school and it is already obvious that this new school is not promising as no one offered her a seat. Eventually an obviously reluctant asian boy, Park, allowed her to take the seat next to him. For several weeks the two said nothing to each other but eventually formed a friendship centered around comic books and music. Park is half-Korean in an extremely white school but is not bullied by the popular kids despite his race, outside of the difference in his skin, he has a close to perfect life at home outside of a few comments from his dad about his feminine characteristics and inability to drive stick shift. This perfect life does not hold true to Eleanor, who is entering the school partway through the year after being brought back to a broken household where she now lives with her four siblings, mother and abusive stepfather.

The characterization of Eleanor brought her struggle to life for the reader. As an overweight girl with body image issues, high school should have been hard enough for this teenager, yet her out of control red hair and clothes from goodwill make her a prime target for bullying in this 1986 setting. Eleanor is clearly meant to seem different from the other girls not only in looks but in her ideals as well, as she claims that Romeo and Juliet were simply victims of lust, a sentiment any hopelessly romantic teenage girl would be likely to gasp at.

While Eleanor and Park seem to be natural friends, bonding over things such as comics, music and Star Wars, the progression into their relationship seemed somewhat rushed. There were obvious signs they had liked each other as soon as they began talking to each other, and then further along it was clear their feelings had grown, but it seemed as though they plunged into utter devotion to each other far too quickly for the feelings of doubt they both still harbored.

Outside of Eleanor and Park’s relationship and familial ties play a large role in the conflict of the story. Eleanor’s mother’s role in the story is one of conflict, as in the beginning her mother is seen in a semi-positive light, towards the end she is seen from a negative perspective as it is shown how deeply her new husband has broken her and defeated her ideals.

The mother is not able to protect her children nor herself from the monster she has married and causes conflict in the book as the police are called several times and each time the conflict is explained away. By shoving the conflict under the rug it is morphing the children’s perspective of their mother and stepfather. This factor calls attention to the underlying problems within families that must be paid attention to for the sake of those involved.
The characterization of Park and Eleanor’s love for each other shows readers the classic message that there is someone for everyone, no matter how different they are from everyone else. It is often stated that Park loves Eleanor in spite of her odd clothing and frequent mood swings, further instilling the ideal that it is truly what is underneath that counts.