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Tina bullies Eleanor during gym class, and, following Tina’s lead, so do the rest of the girls. They have to wear extremely short, red and white gym suits in class, which embarrasses Eleanor. Eleanor gets to the bus before Park, and although they still haven’t spoken, she notices that he wears cool shoes and reads comic books.
Park feels more and more awkward not talking to Eleanor on the bus, even though he still thinks she dresses weirdly. Park’s younger brother, Josh, is already much taller than Park, and Park has to pretend that he can still beat up Josh to maintain his status as an imposing older brother. Park’s father comes home and kisses Park’s mother, which is a normal occurrence in their household. Park’s dad is much larger than Park’s mom, and Park thinks they look like Paul Bunyan and an It’s a Small World doll.
All the kids have a very early dinner together at Eleanor’s house before Richie gets home, and her mom makes Richie a separate, much nicer meal. After dinner, the kids escape from the house outside, and Eleanor retreats to the bedroom. Before Richie had kicked Eleanor out, Eleanor and her siblings were allied against him, and they would listen together to shouting and crying from her mom and Richie’s room. When Eleanor gets up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, she is too scared to flush the toilet because she might wake Richie.
Park’s friend Cal tells Park that he’s going to ask out a girl named Kim, and Park advises Cal to set his sights elsewhere. Cal sees Eleanor staring at Park, and he says that she has jungle fever. Park points out that that isn’t even the right kind of racist. Park contemplates Eleanor’s weird clothing, which makes him realizes that he actually likes some of it. Park is annoyed with Cal and tells Cal to ask Kim out.
In the library, looking for a poem to memorize, Eleanor ends up in the empty African-American literature section. Even though most students in the school are black, the majority of kids in her honors classes are white. She observes that the honors kids are nicer, or at least more polite, because they’re scared of getting in trouble. Eleanor copies a poem called “Caged Bird” to memorize, and is pleased when she realizes that it rhymes.
Park figures out that Eleanor has been reading his comics over his shoulder on the bus. Park also finds himself noticing Eleanor’s unusual red hair and dark eyes. He holds the comics wider and turns the pages more slowly.
When Eleanor gets home, her mom is stressed and kicks all the kids outside. Eleanor wants to take a bath before Richie gets home because there’s no door on the bathroom. It’s cold outside, but Eleanor doesn’t own a jacket. Ben, her eleven-year-old brother, says that when it’s too cold to play outside, Richie makes all the kids go to bed very early.
Eleanor remembers living with the Hickmans, the family she stayed with when Richie kicked her out. She was only supposed to be with them for a few days, but it turned into a much longer stay. Eleanor’s mom stopped calling after a few months because Richie hadn’t paid the phone bill. Eleanor overheard the Hickmans talk about calling the state to get her, and she tried to be as invisible as possible. Ben tells Eleanor that all the other siblings thought she was gone for good.
As the novel progresses, and as Eleanor and Park develop a closer relationship, the perspective switches more frequently between them. The structure of the book mirrors the increasing interconnectedness of their lives.
Just like the narrative structure, which is beginning to intertwine Park’s perspective and Eleanor’s perspective, Park and Eleanor find themselves becoming more and more drawn to each other. Even though they don’t yet realize that they’re attracted to each other, each one of them is subconsciously noticing things about the other one. Both Eleanor and Park find the other one fascinating for very specific, quirky reasons. Each one perceives the other as another outsider, and most of the rest of the people at school don’t know how to deal with outsiders or anyone who wants to be different. Eleanor realizes that even though Park seems like he fits in, he has many hidden depths, and Park realizes that even though Eleanor might seem shy and strange, she is quite talented and creative.
The fact that Eleanor chooses Maya Angelou’s famous poem, “Caged Bird,” to memorize for English class, draws the reader’s attention not only to the fact that Eleanor feels like a caged bird in her house, but also to the racism and xenophobia that are present in Omaha. “Caged Bird” is a very appropriate poem for Eleanor to memorize, because it’s all about a person who feels trapped by her environment. But Eleanor doesn’t find the poem because she’s drawn to its content. Instead, she picks it by circumstance, because she is hiding from the other students in the relatively deserted African-American section of the library. The way that students are grouped together at high school creates segregation, because most of the students who are tracked into honors classes are white and come from privileged backgrounds, whereas most of the students who are not on the honors track are black. The racial tensions under the surface at the high school are not discussed explicitly very often throughout the novel, but these tensions do underscore the difficulty that many people in the novel have in understanding and accepting any forms of diversity.
Park’s home life seems to function fairly well. Even though Park’s parents are physical opposites, they love and support each other. Some tensions are still present under the surface of Park’s home life, however. Park’s brother, Josh, is more traditionally masculine than Park, and Park has to pretend to be stronger than he is to maintain his authority.
Park’s home life and Eleanor’s experience at home are quite different. Even though Park’s life isn’t perfect, he feels accepted and loved by his family, and he knows that his family cares for him. When Eleanor comes home every day, she feels very unwelcome. She has only recently returned to her family after running away from home and staying with family friends for a year, and her re-entry process back into family life has not been very smooth. Eleanor feels disconnected from her younger siblings, and she is very anxious around Richie. She loves her mom, and her mom seems to accept her, but their relationship is tense because her mom is still so subordinate to Richie. Eleanor doesn’t trust Richie, and she hates how he treats her family, but she also doesn’t want to cause another huge fight, so she tries to keep the peace.
Eleanor’s siblings don’t accuse Eleanor directly of abandoning them, but they do seem to be distant towards her. In the year since she’s left, they’ve developed their own dynamic with Richie, and Eleanor feels left out. She knows that she did the right thing by leaving, but she also feels uncomfortable about coming back. Richie is more dominant than ever in the household, and even though she can see his controlling nature more clearly than before, Eleanor keeps her mouth shut for the sake of the rest of her family.
Part of Eleanor’s shyness on the bus and in school also comes from her difficult experience with the Hickmans, the family she lived with when Richie kicked her out of the house. At the Hickmans’, she felt very strongly that she wasn’t wanted, but to stay in their good graces, she decided that the best strategy was to try to be as inconspicuous as possible. Becoming invisible is Eleanor’s self-protection strategy. Rather than letting people into her life, she creates a wall around herself to stay protected.
In general, Eleanor feels like nobody wants her. Even though she is back at home, her whole family is wary of her presence. Richie already kicked her out once, and her siblings haven’t quite accepted her back fully. She doesn’t have any private space to call her own, and she doesn’t feel welcome in any shared space. Eleanor’s house does not feel like a home.