genre: young adult
When Park sees Eleanor walk onto the bus, he knows it's not going to be good. She's overweight. She's got huge red hair. She's so clearly "other" that it takes about five seconds for her to be the biggest loser on the way to high school. When he lets her sit next to him it's only so the bus can just start moving again, not because he has any interest in being near her or getting to know her.
Except, he DOES get to know her.
And when he does, it changes everything.
OH MY WORD. If I could slurp a story through a straw, I would slurp this one. I have never yet read a story of teenage love that hit me in the gut the way this one did. This author NAILED IT. She NAILED what it is to feel lonely and ugly and not-what-you-should-be and yet somehow have someone love you - and how you come to terms with that juxtaposition. I loved what Eleanor and Park had in common and I loved how they sorted through what they didn't, especially the contrast because Eleanor's completely messed up homelife and Park's, which is so much better and yet still has Park feeling like he's not enough.
In fact, I think Eleanor's home, her horrendous and frightening stepfather and the current of fear within those walls is so tightly and expertly written I feel like everyone who works with hurting kids should read it, just to help you imagine what that might be like.
I can't stop having thoughts about this book. I loved the 80s culture piece, especially the mixed tapes (how many of those did I make?). I liked that it felt "period" without trying so hard to put in lots of cultural references. One thing I must write down is how glad I am that I listened to it. The perspective changes between Eleanor and Park throughout the book and the narrators were AMAZING. The phone conversations between the two of them were so reminiscent of my own illicit teenage nighttime phone calls with boys that it actually gave me chills, the way the narrators almost whispered. Also, I couldn't get enough of the guy reading in his Korean mother's voice. Oh, did I mention Park is part-Korean? So, diversity is abounding but it was never shoved in my face like, LOOK! We have fat characters! We have half-Korean characters! We're totally diverse! It just felt like life, life in all its tragedy and its stolen moments of glory, like the inside parts of us just really want the same thing: to love and be loved, for exactly what we have to offer in this moment.
This book is a painful treasure. It hurts because there is so much HARD and HORRIBLE but it also hurts because it is so freaking good and full of a hope that maybe there really is a little sliver of happy for everyone on this planet, if we're not afraid to grab it when we find it.
fyi - The language in this book is off-the-charts, if that's something that bothers you. The "f-word" is in it about two hundred times.