Eleanor & Park is Rainbow Rowell's debut novel, published in 2013. The story follows dual narratives, Eleanor and Park, two misfits living in Omaha, Nebraska in 1986. Eleanor, a full-figured sixteen-year-old girl with big red hair, and Park, a half-Korean sixteen-year-old, meet on a school bus on Eleanor's first day at her new school, and through a connection of comic books and mix tapes of 80's rock music, they create a spark that ignites a love story.
One extraordinary love.
Eleanor... Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough...Eleanor.
Park... He knows she'll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There's a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises...Park.
Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.
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Sixteen-year-old Eleanor Douglas gets onto the bus on her first day at a new school. The students on the bus see her and arrange themselves so that the extra space is covered, and Eleanor doesn't sit near them. Park refuses to acknowledge Eleanor. Eleanor stays standing as the bus drives on, and more kids get on and take their seats. She soon gets accustomed to sitting down by the bus driver. Eleanor's mother, Sabrina, tells her that her stepfather Richie could drive her to school on his way to work, but Eleanor refuses. Eleanor finally finds an empty seat and gets the courage to sit, only to be stopped by Tina, a popular girl with big, blonde hair. Park, listening to his Walkman, gets irritated when he sees that Eleanor is about to cry, and he moves over in his seat and rudely tells Eleanor to sit down, which neither of them is pleased about. Eleanor sits, leaving six inches between her and Park, and both of them say nothing on their way to school.
After many days of taking the bus together in silence, Park realizes Eleanor is reading his comic books on the bus. He doesn't know what to say to her. Awkward from the silence, he opens the comic book in his lap wider, so Eleanor can get a better view of it. Eleanor notices that Park realized that she's reading his comics, but neither of them acknowledges it. He starts a new comic and lets Eleanor read with him. At the end of the school day, Park opens his comic book back to where they'd left off that morning. They are still reading when they get to Eleanor's stop, both engrossed in the story. As she gets up to leave, he hands her the comic book. She tries to hand it back, but he declines. She reads it three times that night.
One afternoon, Eleanor's mother loses her temper when two of her brothers, Ben and Mouse, are fighting over a toy, so she pushes them all out the back door. Their house is right next to the elementary school where Ben and Maisie go, the playground right in their backyard. Sitting outside with her brother, Ben asks Eleanor what it was like when she left, to live with the Hickmans, an old friend of her mother's. Eleanor was supposed to stay there for a couple of days, which turned into a whole year. Eleanor slept in the living room and tried to make herself as small as possible, not to bother the Hickmans after overhearing the husband saying he should call the state.
Park starts bringing Eleanor a stack of comics for her to read, which she reads at night after her brothers and sister fall asleep. The next day, on the school bus, he notices lyrics from the band, The Smiths, on her textbook cover. She confesses she doesn't know who they are, but that the song titles on her book is a wish list of songs that she would like to hear. Later that night, Park makes a mixtape of all of his favorite songs and puts it in his book bag, as well as more comic books.
During gym class, Eleanor notices that nobody has picked on her that day. When she gets to her locker after gym, she realizes why: her locker is covered with Kotex pads that are colored in with red magic marker. Eleanor refuses to let the other girls see her cry, so she holds her chin high and starts peeling off the pads. As everyone leaves, two black girls, DeNice and Beebi, stay and help her pull off the pads. Later, on the bus, Park lets her borrow his Walkman. The next day, Eleanor and Park's friendship begins as they talk about their mutual love of music and the comic books. After that morning, Eleanor and Park started noticing each other, particular things about each other throughout the day.
One night, after his taekwondo lesson, Park races to Eleanor's house to show her a comic book. Richie answers the door, angry that Eleanor had a visitor. Eleanor and Park read the comic book on the elementary school steps. When Eleanor returns home that night, Richie becomes suspicious of her. Her mother tries to convince her not to get involved with a boy, seeing as it would enrage Richie, but Eleanor reassures her mother that he will never come back to the house. The next day on the bus, Park apologizes for going to Eleanor's house last night and for getting her in trouble. They hold hands for the rest of the bus ride.
Eleanor gets a call at school one day: Her father wants her to babysit his girlfriend's son as they go to a wedding. After some arguing, her mother lets her babysit. The next morning, Eleanor asks Park for his number, so she can use her father's phone since she doesn't have a phone at her own house. He offers to write it on the cover of her textbook, but she objects to it, not wanting her mother to see it. That's when Park notices the words "suck me off" written on her cover. Eleanor hasn't seen that before and furiously scribbles over it. Eleanor notes this isn't the first time someone has insulted her. Park gives Eleanor his number, which she remembers by the tune of a song, considering it a date. They talk on the phone that night, and Park professes his love to Eleanor.
As Eleanor and Park are speaking on the bus, they hear a chanting begin: "Go Big Red!" Not being able to control his anger, Park tackles Steve when they get to school, using his taekwondo moves on Steve, and tells Steve to leave his girlfriend alone. Park then gets suspended. His mother believes that Eleanor has a bad influence on him and she grounds him, not allowing him to see Eleanor. After that day, Eleanor finds more perverted notes written in her textbooks.
One night, while Eleanor is sleeping, she hears gunshots. She sneaks out of her house and goes to her neighbor's to call the police. Eleanor's mother makes Eleanor tell the police that it was a mistake and that she did not hear the gunshot. Richie yells at Eleanor, accusing her of trying to get rid of him. After the police leave, Eleanor's mother warns her to never call the police again — Richie just wanted to scare some teens who were being loud. Eleanor recounts the time when Richie kicked her out the previous year: It was a summer day and Eleanor was bored, so she began to play on her new typewriter. Richie was in a bad mood and was annoyed at the sound of the typewriter. When he had had enough, he ran into Eleanor's room and hurled the typewriter across the room, yelling profanities at Eleanor. Eleanor's anger spiked and she started yelling back at Richie. Richie went to attack Eleanor, but her mother got to her first, and took Eleanor's arm and ran out of the house, away from Richie.
Eleanor starts lying to her mother, saying she's going to her friend Tina's house, when in reality, she's going to Park's house. Eleanor has already been to Park's house once and it did not end well; she was visibly uncomfortable, and abruptly left crying. Park's mother visibly is not very fond of Eleanor, and Eleanor can tell. After dinner with Park and his family one night, Park walks Eleanor to his grandparents' driveway (they live next door), behind a tree and an RV, and he kisses Eleanor.
As Eleanor and Park are doing homework in Park's kitchen, Park notices more perverted notes left on Eleanor's textbook. Eleanor suspects this is Tina's doing, seeing that Tina constantly makes fun of her. Park rebukes this, saying Tina would never stoop so low, and that they used to be friends. He admits that he and Tina dated when they were younger. Park thinks that Eleanor is writing the perverted messages herself, which makes Eleanor angry, causing her to storm out of Park's house. Eleanor skips school on their last day before Christmas break, to avoid Park.
Eleanor gets a letter in a mail from her Uncle Geoff who lives in Minnesota, inviting Eleanor over the summer, to a program for gifted high school students at his university. Richie immediately says no to her leaving.
On Christmas Eve, Eleanor and her family go grocery shopping, as do Park and his mother. His mother sees Eleanor with her family and becomes upset. Later that night, his mother, drunk, enters Park's room and gives him a present for Eleanor, from her. She tells him about her life in Korea, about her three younger brothers and sisters, and having to sacrifice a lot to have everyone fed and clothed. She understands Eleanor now that she has seen her family. That night, Park runs to Eleanor's house and knocks on her window, and she tells him to meet her at the school. They spend hours there that night, kissing and talking. Eleanor spends her days at Park's house for the rest of their Christmas break.
One day at Park's house, Eleanor brings up Mrs. Sheridan's job as a beautician, and Mrs. Sheridan decides to give Eleanor a makeover. She washes Eleanor's hair and puts makeup on her. Mrs. Sheridan puts eyeliner on Park to show Eleanor that it is painless. Park plays rock, paper, scissors with Eleanor to distract her. After Mrs. Sheridan is done, Eleanor looks in the mirror and begins to cry, thinking that Park and his mother prefer her with makeup. Park's mother gives her some makeup to bring home, which she puts in her Grapefruit box that her uncle sent her, along with her comics from Park.
After gym class one day, Eleanor finds that her clothes are missing from her locker — and have been flushed down the toilet. Her gym teacher writes her a pass to see her guidance counselor, and Eleanor sneaks outside and goes around, to avoid anyone seeing her in her gym suit, but Park does.
Park and Eleanor go on a date one night when they are at Park's house, and his mother announces that she doesn't want to cook dinner. Park takes the car and drives them downtown. He takes Eleanor to his favorite pizza place, ice cream place, and book shops, holding her hand the whole time. They spend time at Central Park, talking about the future, specifically prom. They get back to the car and realize it's not as late as they thought it was. They end up in the back seat and reach second base.
When Eleanor gets home later that night, she hears Richie yelling, and her mother crying. As she walks into her room, she notices her comic books ripped on the floor, and the makeup Park's mother gave her smeared everywhere. She finds her grapefruit box ripped in half, which a message written on it — the same handwriting that had left perverted notes all over her textbooks — Richie's handwriting. Richie somehow found out about Eleanor dating Park. Eleanor realizes the danger she's in and runs away to Steve's garage. She then walks over to Park's house, and Eleanor tells him she has to go. Park takes the keys to his father's truck and takes Eleanor away, to her Uncle Geoff's house in Minnesota. They make out in the truck one last time. The next morning, they get to St. Paul and Park drops her off at her uncle's house. After a tearful goodbye, she settles in, with her shocked aunt crying and welcoming her with open arms.
Park writes Eleanor plenty of letters after she starts living with her aunt and uncle, none of which she opens. Eleanor does not write to Park. Park feels extremely depressed and wants to forget her. However, after 6 months of silence, Park receives a postcard that Eleanor has written him, only three words long.