It is a story a story of first love between two star-crossed young lovers Park Sheridan and Eleanor Douglas. The setting is a school year in 1986. They are considered misfits and are around 15-16 years old.
Park Sheridan is a 15-year old boy, a comic book fan and music fan born to an Irish-American father who served in Korea and Korean mother. He has a very nice family and comfortable home. He was taken care of more than the typical kids his age. He had a twin-sized waterbed and a Ferrari-shaped telephone. Although he is quite shy and geeky unlike his sport-loving family, he doesn't seem to fall short on the looks department either. He had green eyes and yellowish skin. I envision him as someone who is good-looking as the most popular girl in school, Tina, chose him to be her first boyfriend.
On the other hand, Eleanor Douglas is the new a red-haired girl in school. She is the oldest of five children with an abusive step-father named Richie. She hates the way she looks and very low self-esteem. She had chubby freckled cheeks. She was heavy built, fat and probably stocky. She has a weird sense of fashion which makes her noticeably not in an admirable way. Park describes as "gypsy hobo".
You can see the character and story development from the moment the two met on the bus...
Park was very consistent with his feelings. It started with him being embarrassed for the way she looks. Then, he started to talk to her and caring for her. First, as they read comic books together, he sees to it that she's finished before he turns the page. He then began preparing and lending her comic books. Then, he lent his walkman and soon began preparing tapes for her. He began noticing her presence even at school. He visited her at home.
His bold moves began when he held Eleanor's hand in Chapter 15: Park.
"Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive.
As soon as he touched her, he wondered how he’d gone this long without doing it. He rubbed his thumb through her palm and up her fingers, and was aware of her every breath.
Park had held hands with girls before. Girls at Skateland. A girl at the ninth-grade dance last year. (They’d kissed while they waited for her dad to pick them up.) He’d even held Tina’s hand, back when they ‘went’ together in the sixth grade.
And always, before, it had been fine. Not much different from holding Josh’s hand when they were little kids crossing the street. Holding his grandma’s hand when she took him to church. Maybe a little sweatier, a little more awkward.
When he’d kissed that girl last year, with his mouth dry and his eyes mostly open, Park had wondered if maybe there was something wrong with him.
He’d even wondered – seriously, while he was kissing her, he’d wondered this – whether he might be gay. Except he didn’t feel like kissing any guys either. And if he thought about She-Hulk or Storm (instead of this girl, Dawn) the kissing got a lot better.
Maybe I’m not attracted to real girls, he’d thought at the time. Maybe I’m some sort of perverted cartoon-sexual.
Or maybe, he thought now, he just didn’t recognize all those other girls. The way a computer drive will spit out a disk if it doesn’t recognize the formatting.
When he touched Eleanor’s hand, he recognized her. He knew."
I love how it was depicted in this chapter that Eleanor was not the first hand Park held. Park has been with other girls and even kissed them. But, none of those ever felt like anything to him before Eleanor so it was like an awakening of feelings for him. From here it is clear that his first love is Eleanor.
I guess it came as something unexpected for Park and his immediate reaction was to be afraid of people knowing he liked Eleanor. Yet, he couldn't stop yearning for her attention. During non-school days, she kept thinking of and missing Eleanor. Park develops an attraction over Eleanor. On Chapter 17: Park:
"Park whipped his head around. Eleanor. Smiling at him.She had the kind of smile you see in toothpaste commercials, where you can see practically all of somebody’s teeth. She should smile like that all the time, Park thought; it made her face cross over from weird to beautiful. He wanted to make her smile like that constantly."
Park begins to be cheesy! =p On Chapter 18: Eleanor Park said: "Don’t be mad at me, he said, sighing. ‘It makes me crazy."
When Park found out that someone has been scribbling on her books, he felt defensive and protective over her. Then, they began having daily phone calls which showed how crazy he is for her.
Another big part unfolds when Park invited Eleanor in his home. Park was proud of her and got angry at her for being too ashamed for who and what she looked like. Park even thought of breaking up with her because he knew she was too insecure. That was the right logical move but he let his feelings dissuade him and allowed himself to fall even deeper.
Park was very cool on Chapter 22 where he kicked Steve on the face for teasing the both of them and said "Leave … my girlfriend … alone." (Park's Wednesday Taekwondo classes paid off) Although Eleanor thought that it was Park was doing it for himself because it made it embarrassing for him to be with her, I'm with Park that it was really affecting Eleanor thinking that she is not good enough for Park so Park did the right thing. That part also exhibited the bro code among guys. Steve respected Eleanor as soon as Park established in public that Eleanor is his girlfriend.
Park is very understanding and realistic as shown in Chapter 27: Eleanor:
"I’m sorry about yesterday,’ she said. He hung onto his straps and shrugged.‘Yesterday happens."
On Chapter 28: Park quotes:
"Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something"
- I have a personal comment about this... I told my guy friend that when I fall in love with a guy, even if he isn't good looking, he becomes attractive to me as if he becomes my standard of attractiveness. My girl friends also agree to this. I wonder if this is what Park meant by this. According to my guy friend, it doesn't work that way for guys. He says that attractiveness for guys is based on general standards. He also added that they are biologically wired that way and it assures their happiness in marriage.
While Park is consistent in pursuing Eleanor, Eleanor's negativity sadly affected Park thereby creating his own uncertainties to like in Chapter:30 Park:
"He’d thought he was over caring what people thought about him. He’d thought that loving Eleanor proved that. But he kept finding new pockets of shallow inside himself. He kept finding new ways to betray her. "
And, even though I really think it was Eleanor's fault. Park was the one to apologize for his PAST! I thought that was not fair but I believe love is like that. You desperately try to make it work that you lose track of whose giving more, which is fair and what not.
Park was sweet to gift her a necklace. He also understands and defended Eleanor when his mom suggested on giving her a make over. He also assures her that he likes her the way she is. I thought it was a weird stunt that he wore make up just to prove something to his family and Eleanor though. But, it showed how confident he is with himself and how much he would fight for Eleanor. Park was also sexually attracted to Eleanor and he made advances but his and his family's respect for her is more important to him. While Eleanor was not the type who'd share her problems with Park. Park stood by her. When she needed to leave for her own safety, Park drove her to her uncle.
I think an essential requisite to a relationship is believing and Park firmly believes in love against all odds because he had parents who he cites as an example on Chapter 53: Park:
"What are the chances you’d ever meet someone like that? he wondered. Someoneyou could love forever, someone who would forever love you back? And what did you dowhen that person was born half a world away?The math seemed impossible. How did his parents get so lucky? They couldn’t have felt lucky at the time. His dad’s brother had just died in Vietnam; that’s why they sent his dad to Korea. And when his parents got married, his mom had to leave everything and everyone she loved behind."
Park wrote Eleanor so many letters which she never responded to. She only wrote one letter with three words on the ending... (It was not revealed thus, a hanging ending but I'd like to think that she finally overcame her insecurities and it would say "I miss you" or "I love you" because Park still hasn't given up on her)
Overall, I really like the character of Park. He really loved Eleanor and was willing to fight for her in full confidence.
Sadly, I couldn't say the same for Eleanor. She was so insecure. She creates her own demons which made the argue unnecessarily. Her uncertainties affected Park in a negative way. She didn't want to acknowledge her feelings for Park or their chemistry together. There were moments when she even hated them. She tried her best not to show her affection to him despite him pursuing her all along. She was clearly not ready for a relationship. As shown in the following quotes:
Chapter 14: Eleanor
"She rolled her eyes again. She knew Mr Stessman’s game by now.‘Romeo and Juliet are just two rich kids who’ve always gotten every little thing theywanted. And now, they
they want each other.’‘They’re in love …’ Mr Stessman said, clutching his heart.‘They don’t even know each other,’ she said.‘It was love at first sight.’‘It was “Oh my God, he’s so cute” at first sight. If Shakespeare wanted you to believe they were in love, he wouldn’t tell you in almost the very first scene that Romeo was hung up on Rosaline … " - This showed that Eleanor doesn't believe in love in the first place and till the end she had a hard time in accepting it.
Chapter 14: Eleanor
"Every morning when Eleanor got on the bus, she worried that Park wouldn’t takeoff his headphones. That he would stop talking to her as suddenly as he’d started … And if that happened – if she got on the bus one day and he didn’t look up – she didn’t want him to see how devastated it would make her.So far, it hadn’t happened. So far, they hadn’t stopped talking. Like, literally. They talked every second they were sitting next to each other. And almost every conversation started with the words ‘what do you think …’What did Eleanor think about that U2 album? She loved it.What did Park think of Miami Vice? He thought it was boring.‘Yes,’ they said when they agreed with each other. Back and forth – ‘Yes,’Yes Yes!’‘I know.’ Exactly.’Right?
They agreed about everything important and argued about everything else. And that was good, too, because whenever they argued, Eleanor could always crack Park up." - This showed her fears despite their wonderful chemistry. But at this point,her frustration is excusable because Park hasn't made any direct moves yet.
Chapter 16: Eleanor
"Besides they didn’t just hold hands. Park touched her hands like they were something rare and precious, like her fingers were intimately connected to the rest of her body. Which, of course, they were. It was hard to explain. He made her feel like more than the sum of her parts." - Finally Park made his move, but instead of letting herself feel great, she avoid Park. This clearly indicates she wasn't ready for this at all. And, this struggle kept on going.
Chapter 17: Eleanor
"Who knows what he missed. Her fatness. Her weirdness. The fact that she couldn’t talk to him like a regular person. Whatever. Whatever perversion caused him to like her was his problem. But he did like her, she was sure of it. At least for now. For today. He liked her. He missed her." - She knew Park was different. Yet, her tone was always temporary and negative. It didn't sound like she wanted to fight for the relationship.
Chapter 19: Park
"I don’t like you, Park,’ she said, sounding for a second like she actually meant it. ‘I…’ – her voice nearly disappeared – ‘sometimes I think I live for you.’ He closed his eyes and arched his head back into his pillow.‘I don’t think I even breathe when we’re not together,’ she whispered. ‘Which means, when I see you on Monday morning, it’s been like sixty hours since I’ve taken a breath. That’s probably why I’m so crabby, and why I snap at you. All I do when we’re apart is think about you, and all I do when we’re together is panic. Because every second feels so important. And because I’m so out of control, I can’t help myself. I’m not even mine anymore, I’m yours, and what if you decide that you don’t want me? How could you want me like I want you?" - The first part was good. But, the last sentences were again so negative. And, it sounds so calculative. As sweet as the first part is, I don't support her view of love from the last part. I believe that when you truly love someone, you just give your best without expecting anything in return. You lose sight of others' opinions, pride, fear, insecurities because you can't help but be the best version of you so you can give more.
Chapter 19: Eleanor
"Damn, damn, damn,’ she said. ‘I never said why I like you, and now I have to go.’‘That’s okay,’ he said.‘It’s because you’re kind,’ she said. ‘And because you get all my jokes …’‘Okay,’ he laughed.‘And you’re smarter than I am.’‘I am not.’‘And you look like a protagonist.’ She was talking as fast as she could think. ‘You look like the person who wins in the end. You’re so pretty, and so good. You have magic eyes,’ she whispered. ‘And you make me feel like a cannibal.’‘You’re crazy.’‘I have to go.’ She leaned over so the receiver was close to the base.
‘Eleanor – wait,’ Park said. She could hear her dad in the kitchen and her heart beat everywhere.‘Eleanor – wait – I love you.’‘Eleanor?’ her dad was standing in the doorway. He was being quiet, in case shewas asleep. She hung up the phone and pretended that she was." - Finally, she said it without anything wrong. Park told her he loved her yet she never said it back.
"It was just too much. Meeting his pretty, perfect mom. Seeing his normal, perfecthouse. Eleanor hadn’t known there were houses like that in this crappy neighborhood – houses with wall-to-wall carpeting and little baskets of potpourri everywhere. She didn’t know there were families like that. The only upside to living in this effed-up neighborhoodwas that everybody else was effed up, too. The other kids might hate Eleanor for being bigand weird, but they weren’t going to hate on her for having a broken family and a broke-down house. That was kind of the rule around here.Park’s family didn’t fit. They were the Cleavers. And he’d told her that his grandparents lived in the house next door, which had flower boxes, for Christ’s sake. His family was practically the Waltons. Eleanor’s family had been messed up even before Richie came around and senteverything straight to hell.She would never belong in Park’s living room. She never felt like she belonged anywhere, except for when she was lying on her bed, pretending to be somewhere else." - The insecurities keeps piling up.
Chapter 26: Eleanor
"Did she miss him?She wanted to lose herself in him. To tie his arms around her like a tourniquet. If she showed him how much she needed him, he’d run away." - Again she has this weird negative denial phase. He's already there and consistently pursuing her. Yet, it's as if she was never convinced. (I hate her! She always sees things to be just about her...)
Chapter 52: Eleanor
"There’s only one of him, she thought, and he’s right here. He knows I’ll like a song before I’ve heard it. He laughs before I even get to the punchline. There’s a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes me want to let him open doors for me. There’s only one of him." - Another evidence of their chemistry...
Chapter 53: Park
"He climbed up and sat next to her.‘Hey,’ he said.‘Hey.’He pushed his shoulder up against hers and nearly wept with relief when she laidher head against him. Weeping again today seemed wholly inevitable.‘Do you really believe that?’ she asked.‘What?’‘That … we’ll have other chances? That we have any chance at all?’‘Yes.’‘No matter what happens,’ she said forcefully, ‘I’m not coming home.’‘I know.’She was quiet.‘No matter what happens,’ Park said, ‘I love you.’She put her arms around his waist, and he hugged her shoulders.‘I just can’t believe that life would give us to each other,’ he said, ‘and then take it back.’‘I can,’ she said. ‘Life’s a bastard.’He held her tighter, and pushed his face into her neck.‘But it’s up to us …’ he said softly. ‘It’s up to us not to lose this." - That's a lame way to deflame Park's fighting spirit but bravo to Park for not being subdued.
"Stupid Asian kid. Stupid, beautiful Asian kid.Thank God she couldn’t make her mouth work right now, because if she could there’d be no end to the melodramatic garbage she’d say to him.She was pretty sure she’d thank him for saving her life. Not just yesterday, but, like, practically every day since they’d met. Which made her feel like the dumbest, weakest girl.If you can’t save your own life, is it even worth saving?
There’s no such thing as handsome princes, she told herself. There’s no such thing as happily ever after .She looked up at Park. Into his golden green eyes.You saved my life, she tried to tell him. Not forever, not for good. Probably just temporarily. But you saved my life, and now I’m yours. The me that’s me right now is yours. Always." - After all Park's assurance, she still isn't convinced!
"They were just going to stop. Park was never going to love her more than he did on the day they said goodbye.And she couldn’t bear to think of him loving her less." - Grrr!!! She is so selfish here. =(
Overall, Eleanor and Park is a good read. I really delved into the story and was emotionally affected. I can't believe how stupid Eleanor is and she thinks she's so smart to know that love doesn't last when it's really all because of her. But, what made this book a huge success is probably because of Park. The character of Park gives hope to every girl out there who is beautiful in other ways but not in terms. Park goes against the dynamics of reality where guys are genetically engineered to base attraction on looks. This is scientifically ground that beauty is inline with health and reproduction. Perhaps, Eleanor knows this fact which is why she is scared and unfortunately in the process, hurting Park and making him pay for the price of going against the laws of biology and society. I have a lot of guy friends and with all respect, they are really good caring and nice guys and some I can even trust with my life. But, none of them, regardless of age, are like Park who can find and be happily satisfied with beauty beyond looks and have the courage to fight for it against social pressure despite their prideful nature and be illogical as to go against their biological system too. Perhaps men like Park are proofs that love is not something we feel because we are design to reproduce and to survive. And ironically, its not just men who are wired that way, if Park and Eleneor were real, you'd ridicule against them based on looks too like say Clive Owen? Women judge one another and objectify ourselves in terms of beauty too. But, I'm a firm believer that everyone is beautiful in their own way and that it may be rare, but there will be someone out there who will find you beautiful both in looks and in other aspects. I've seen happy couples like Eleanor and Park who lived happily ever after.