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The new girl in high school, and one of the novel’s two protagonists. Eleanor is “big and awkward,” has curly red hair, and often dresses in men’s clothing with wild accessories, all of which make her stand out in a crowd. Eleanor is extremely smart and brave, but she is also prickly and tends not to let people get too close to her. She puts up walls around herself as a self-defense mechanism because she has experienced a lot of pain and abuse in her life, and it takes a long time for her to trust other people enough to let her guard down and be herself.
Read an in-depth analysis of Eleanor.
An artistic Asian-American high schooler, and one of the novel’s two protagonists. Park knows how to get along with the other kids at his school, but he doesn’t really fit in with them. Park tends to retreat to his own world by listening to headphones or reading comic books. He also feels like an outsider among the men in his family, since he is small, likes to wear black, and would rather listen to music than play football. Park knows how to get along with others, and throughout the book, he gains the confidence to start asserting what he wants.
Read an in-depth analysis of Park.
Eleanor’s evil stepfather. Richie is domineering, self-centered, and mean. He is physically, emotionally, and psychologically abusive to everyone in the household, but particularly to Eleanor and her mom. Richie is an alcoholic, and he can launch into a violent rage at the smallest provocation. If things don’t go exactly as Richie wants them to go, and even if Richie hasn’t told anyone what he wants, he will lash out at everyone. He has to be the center of attention at all times, and treats everyone around him like they’re his property.
Read an in-depth analysis of Richie.
Eleanor’s mother, a kind but worn-down woman. Sabrina is very beautiful, but she is not confident in herself. She tries to pretend that everything at home is all right, even though Richie abuses her and doesn’t respect the family. Eleanor’s mother always wants to smooth things over and make things seem like they’re okay instead of standing up for herself in difficult situations. She is sweet to Eleanor and tries to take care of her, but she also isn’t a person that Eleanor feels like she can turn to for emotional support.
Park’s mother, a beautician who grew up in Korea and immigrated to the United States when she married Park’s father. Park’s mother wants to assimilate into American culture, which is why she goes by “Mindy” instead of her Korean given name, “Min-Dae.” She is doll-like in appearance, and she takes pride in being neat and pretty. Mindy sometimes has a difficult time seeing beyond the surface, but eventually, when she gets to know people, she appreciates them.
Park’s father, a kindhearted army veteran who takes pride in being a man’s man. Jamie met Park’s mother when he was stationed in Korea, and they still have an openly affectionate relationship. Park’s parents gives Park a good role model for a healthy, caring adult relationship. Jamie is sometimes hard on Park because he wants his sons to be masculine, and he has trouble understanding Park’s artistic side, but ultimately, Jamie stands up for his family.
Park’s younger but taller brother. Josh is more stereotypically masculine than Park, and he fits into these social roles much more easily than Park does. Park sometimes feels like his dad compares him to Josh and is disappointed in Park as a result.
The oldest of Eleanor’s younger siblings. Ben is twelve and old enough to recognize how terrible Richie is to the family, but he’s also terrified of Richie. Even though he used to be on Eleanor’s side against Richie, now he feels distant from her. Since she ran away without saying goodbye, he doesn’t know if he can trust her, even though she’s always loved all of her siblings.
Eleanor’s nine-year-old little sister. Maisie, like Ben, also used to be allied with Eleanor against Richie, but in the year when Eleanor went away, Maisie started calling Richie “Dad.” Maisie is scared of Richie, but she’s still too young to understand the full extent of Richie’s abuse, and she doesn’t yet know how to stand up to Richie.
One of Eleanor’s younger brothers. Mouse is the only one of Eleanor’s siblings who seems genuinely happy to see her when she comes back. However, Mouse is only five.
Eleanor’s baby half-brother. The baby doesn’t recognize Eleanor when she returns. The baby is Richie’s son, but Richie doesn’t seem to display much affection towards him.
An absent figure in Eleanor’s life. Eleanor’s dad abandoned Eleanor and the rest of her family, and he has very little contact with them. He has started a whole new life with a son and a fiancée. Eleanor certainly doesn’t feel like she can turn to him to help her deal with the terrible Richie situation, because even when Richie kicked her out of the house, Eleanor didn’t attempt to live with her dad.
The popular girl at school, and a bully. Tina picks on Eleanor because Eleanor doesn’t fit in. Tina is jealous of Eleanor because Tina used to date Park and she still has feelings for him. To retaliate, she coordinates some cruel pranks against Eleanor in the gym locker room. Park’s mother likes Tina because Tina is conventionally beautiful and enjoys getting makeovers. However, despite being a bully, Tina helps Eleanor at the end of the novel when Richie becomes a real threat.
The alpha male at school, and a bully. Steve drinks, smokes pot, and is generally loud and obnoxious. He leads the taunting on the school bus. Even though Park has known him for years and doesn’t like him, Steve usually leaves Park alone. The first time that Park ever retaliates against Steve is when Steve is taunting Eleanor. But at the end of the novel, Steve helps Eleanor escape from Richie, since he’s mean but not fundamentally evil.
One of Park’s friends at school. Cal sometimes says racist things to Park, but they come out of ignorance, rather than out of a desire to insult Park. Cal’s main concern is trying to date Kim, and he wants Park to be his wingman. Even though Park gets along with Cal, he doesn’t feel any kind of deep bond with him, and Cal is much more interested in himself than in what Park is going through in his relationship with Eleanor.
Cal’s crush at school. Cal tries to use Park to help him win Kim’s heart, but Park is more concerned with his relationship with Eleanor than with the dynamic between Cal and Kim. Kim is a foil to Eleanor, since she is a nice and very normal girl who fits in well at school, but she doesn’t appear to have a very deep or unusual personality.
One of the girls in Eleanor’s gym class who befriends Eleanor. In many ways, DeNice seems like Eleanor’s physical opposite. She is a tiny African-American girl who looks like she could be a gymnast, and she is engaged to a boy who’s already graduated from high school, which helps to give her confidence when other people tease her. Like Eleanor, however, DeNice also dresses unusually, and she accepts Eleanor for who she is.
One of the girls in Eleanor’s gym class who befriends Eleanor. Beebi is even bigger physically than Eleanor, but Beebi doesn’t get picked on like Eleanor does. Beebi and DeNice have been best friends since grade school, and Eleanor feels honored that they’ve taken her under her wing. Even though many people at school are cruel to Eleanor, she has managed to find a few friends that see her for who she is.
Eleanor’s guidance counselor. Mrs. Dunne is one of the few adults in Eleanor’s life who appreciates Eleanor for who she is and seems to care about Eleanor as a person. Eleanor almost feels like she can open up and tell Mrs. Dunne all about her terrible home life, but she doesn’t want to overstep her relationship or seem like she’s complaining, so instead, she keeps things bottled in. However, Mrs. Dunne knows that Eleanor gets picked on in gym class, and she is somewhat of a safe haven for Eleanor at school, even if Eleanor doesn’t open up to her completely.
Eleanor and Park’s English teacher. Mr. Stessman recognizes Eleanor’s talent for poetry recitation, and he singles her out in class to praise her. Park first realizes that Eleanor is talented when she recites poems, and Mr. Stessman’s class gives Eleanor and Park the opportunity to find experiences through literature that help expand their worldview beyond their high school.
Jamie Sheridan’s Irish parents who live next door.