Summary: Prologue

The reader learns that a boy keeps thinking about a redheaded girl named Eleanor, but that he has stopped trying to bring her back to him. Eleanor haunts the boy’s imagination.

Summary: Chapter 1


The novel is written in the third person, but the point of view alternates between Eleanor’s and Park’s. Each time the perspective changes, the switch is marked with a paragraph break and the character’s name.

The story begins in August of 1986. Park has his headphones in, trying to ignore obnoxious chatter between Steve and Tina, two of his classmates. In a racist conversation about a martial arts movie, Steve makes a comment about Park’s mom being Chinese, and Tina corrects him to say that she’s Korean. A new girl boards the bus. She’s a bit larger and awkward with bright curly red hair. Everyone has already claimed a seat on the bus, and whenever Eleanor tries to approach an empty seat, no one lets her sit. Park finally moves his backpack over so she can sit down. They don’t speak to each other, and Park anticipates a “world of suck” from this action.

Summary: Chapter 2


Eleanor sits on the steps in front of school and considers her options as she stares at her bus, Number 666, parked in the lot. On the one hand, she could walk home from school, but she doesn’t know the address. Her mom doesn’t have a car, and calling her dad isn’t a possibility. Her mom has offered to have Richie, Eleanor’s stepdad, drive her to school, but Eleanor is determined to avoid that choice, so she decides to get on the bus. She and Park frown at each other and sit in silence.

Summary: Chapter 3


Park expects Steve to tease him about sitting next to the new girl, but Steve is still blathering about martial arts. Park knows a lot about martial arts, but because his dad is interested in it, not because his mother is Korean. Park has spent all day strategizing how to get away from the new girl, but he hates himself for doing that, and realizes that she might actually be a good buffer against being bullied himself.

Eleanor had been in Park’s English class that afternoon. Mr. Stessman, the teacher, asks Eleanor to read out loud an Emily Dickinson poem about eating, which Park found insensitive. Mr. Stessman was very impressed with the way she read it.

Before Eleanor sits down that afternoon on the bus, Park puts on his headphones, and she doesn’t try to talk to him.

Summary: Chapter 4


Eleanor returns home from school before all her younger siblings, and she is relieved. The house is so small that all the kids share one room. Eleanor, it seems, has been away from home for a long time, and she came back the previous night. Most of her siblings acted like they didn’t recognize her, and they were being nice to her stepfather Richie, which made Eleanor feel terrible.

Eleanor’s mom is making soup, and the very normalcy of this action makes Eleanor want to cry. Eleanor’s mom gives her a black garbage bag with the few possessions of Eleanor’s that are left. The bag has a few old dolls, some random books, and various papers. In the bottom of the bag, Eleanor finds a Fruit-of-the-Month box with her art supplies, and a Walkman without batteries. She hides the bag on the top shelf of the closet.

Summary: Chapter 5


The English teacher tells the students to memorize a poem. He suggests that they choose a romantic poem, and that Eleanor memorize “A Dream Deferred.” Park decides to pick a rhyming poem to make the assignment easier.

Analysis: Prologue and Chapters 1–5

Eleanor and Park are both the protagonists of Eleanor & Park, and the novel switches back and forth constantly between their points of view. Even though the novel always remains in the third person, the reader gets to experience the events described through both characters’ perspectives. Usually, each character describes different events, and the plot moves forward through this back-and-forth narration. However, as the novel progresses, sometimes Eleanor and Park describe the same events, but through their own perspectives. One person’s perception of how things happened might be very different from what the other person thinks happened.

In the beginning of the novel, Eleanor and Park alternate points of view chapter by chapter. When Eleanor and Park are still getting to know each other, and their lives are not as closely intertwined, the structure of the book also keeps their perspectives very clearly separated from each other.

Park and Eleanor are both outsiders at high school, but in very different ways. Park is one of the few Asians at school, and kids often use racial slurs or talk about race in insensitive ways around him. But even when the other kids use insulting terms or get the facts wrong, they usually aren’t trying to be mean to Park. Most of their racism is born from ignorance, not from malice. The city of Omaha does have some diversity, but the town and school are very segregated, and since kids don’t get a lot of exposure to people from other cultures, they don’t have many opportunities to practice cultural sensitivity.

Even though Park is racially more of an outsider than Eleanor, Eleanor is also visibly an outsider at high school. Physically, Eleanor stands out because of her weight and her bright red hair. She also stands out because she does not dress like the other kids at school. Even though Eleanor dresses like she wants to be noticed and to stand out among the rest of the kids, she gets very embarrassed when people make fun of her. Unlike the rudeness that comes up in conversations about Asians, which is often unintentional, the other kids are intentionally rude to Eleanor because of her unusual appearance.

Park wears headphones and retreats into his own world so that he can stay insulated from other kids. The others’ conversations bore him, so he tunes them out. Park might feel like an outsider, but he fits into the culture of the high school more than Eleanor does. Park already has a place on the bus, both literally and metaphorically. Park knows where he can sit down physically on the bus, and he knows how he fits into the social dynamic with the other kids. He jokes with Steve and Tina, and he lets Steve’s potentially insulting remarks roll off his back, since he doesn’t want to pick a fight.

Eleanor’s difficult home life makes her feel even more uncomfortable and alone. Not only does Eleanor feel like an outsider at school, she feels like she doesn’t belong at home. She has just returned home after a long absence, and some of her siblings don’t even recognize her. She has no privacy and very few possessions to call her own.

When Eleanor and Park first meet, neither one of them shows a positive reaction to the other person. They don’t speak to each other, and each of the seethes in private resentment of the whole situation. Both of them realize that Park’s simple action of moving aside so that Eleanor can sit down, and Eleanor’s acceptance of the seat, is much more than a one-time interaction. Where people sit on the bus on the first day of school determines the seating pattern for the rest of the year. Rather than thinking about the opportunity to make a new friend, both Eleanor and Park resent the fact they have to be there, but for different reasons. Eleanor has to walk down the entire bus with no one making room for her, which emphasizes how much of an outsider and social outcast she is. She’s not grateful to Park for letting her sit down, because she knows that he’s only doing so out of a begrudging sense of duty. Park wants to travel through school as invisibly as possible, which involves minimizing all opportunities for other kids to make fun of him. But by opening himself up to sitting next to Eleanor, he realizes that he might become vulnerable to some of the teasing that she will receive.

However, symbolically, now that Park and Eleanor share a bus seat, their lives are intertwined. Park has just made room for another person in his life, and Eleanor has trusted another person enough to allow herself to enter. Even though Park is initially very reluctant to let Eleanor in, he can’t help but start to take notice of her as a factor in his life. He feels protective toward her in English class when the teacher makes her read a poem about eating, and instead of having the urge to make fun of her, he is angry at the teacher for putting her in an uncomfortable situation.