Eleanor’s the new girl. Everyone on the school bus has their designated seat and no one’s moving. Except for Park, who begrudgingly offers her the seat next to him. Park doesn’t know why she makes herself such an obvious target with her weird clothes but Eleanor doesn’t have much of a choice. Slowly a friendship forms during their time over the bus, sharing comics and then music. But Park’s scared of being unpopular and Eleanor, well she has a lot of to be scared of.
Park is the kindest teenage boy ever. He is quite probably a fantastical creature that doesn’t exist in the real world but we can hold out hope. The smallest acts of kindness throughout the book were the things that got me welling up. Most dramatic hand holding scene ever. Those little moments between them on the bus (and I can remember the horror of the school bus for those of us who weren’t popular) were just awwwww. I also loved Park’s parents who were good and kind even if they didn’t always seem that way. But that’s often how teenagers see their parents anyway.
What I really liked was the delicate social hierarchy of school life. The kids that are scared of being friends or just extending a moment of kindness, are scared that it will topple them from their place in the middle. This is such a huge truth that is often skipped over in YA. Everyone’s so busy trying to make sure they aren’t the ones at the bottom, that standing up for someone less fortunate is an act of bravery. It’s interesting how Eleanor starts off unattractive and becomes beautiful through Parks eyes but he is presented as gorgeous, only to reveal he doesn’t feel that way at all about himself.
For some reason, before starting this book, I thought it was going to be light and breezy. Eleanor’s home life is awful and it’s so sad to think that people live that way. She lives in a room with her 4 siblings, her mother is living in fear of their stepdad and Eleanor just doesn’t feel welcome or safe in her own home. Her stepdad’s abusive nature is that soul destroying kind that never escalates enough for someone to intervene but slowly wears the family down. I sometimes felt Eleanor came across a bit distant and maybe her interactions with her family were unemotional. Perhaps she has just become immune to it all but it did make me feel like I shouldn’t care about them. The plot dragged a bit in the middle because of this, Eleanor and Park were at a standstill in their rather chaste and sweet relationship and it needed something a bit more dramatic.
Actually, having a look at the cover blurb of my copy, there is only a “not suitable for younger readers” warning and nothing to even hint at the content. Both the design and words makes me think, cute boy meets girl story. It really is rather sad, peppered with acts of kindness that give you hope.