Awww. This is such a great book about first love and the reality of having really shitty parents when everyone else’s home life seems so “normal”. Where was it when I was fifteen? I would’ve loved and adored it and carried it with me wherever I went. It would’ve made me feel better, given me hope and made me smile when things were so awful I wanted to be anywhere but home. I bought the hardcover for my teen after reading numerous glowing reviews but decided to read it too even though I promised myself I’d stay away from YA after that heart destroying experience that was The Fault In Our Stars. I’m glad I did because even though I’m a few decades older than the target audience I thought it was a lovely story. So far my teen loves it too.
It’s 1986 and Eleanor has recently moved back in with her family after being ousted by her drunken step-father for over a year. There is no room for her, anywhere it seems. She sleeps in a small bedroom with her four younger siblings, doesn’t even have a toothbrush and has to make do with the ill-fitting scraps of clothing her mother brings home from thrift shops. When she steps foot on the school bus everyone notices her but no one makes room to let her sit down. She’s dressed weird, her hair is wild and bright red and Park can hear the snickering all around him. Impulsively he moves over and rudely barks at her to sit down. He instantly regrets it but now she’s sitting there and she’s not all happy about it. Now they’re stuck with each other for the rest of the school year and it changes everything for both of them.
Day after day they ignore each other on the long bus ride. Park is half Korean and, though he’s always lived his entire life with these kids, he’s never felt like he fits in. Befriending Eleanor (Big Red as she’s been dubbed) will instantly make him an outcast. But befriend her he does and it happens so naturally it never feels forced, fake or rushed. Their friendship starts out slowly and is based on their mutual love of his comic books and music (Eleanor owns nothing and he shares). Eleanor is opinionated, funny and sarcastic and he likes being around her. All the time. She likes him too. He’s kind of adorable. Their friendship/love story is awkward and sweet and filled with that angsty, gut-wrenching out of control emotion that first love inevitably brings. It’s also completely believable because of the way it’s told from both of their points of view. Alas, complications arise, as they will when you’re a teen and not at all in control of your life but I won’t give those away. You should read the book if any of this interests you. It’s a really good one!
The version I listened to on audio was read by two narrators who switched off depending on whose point of view was up. I liked this in theory because I never questioned whose head I was in which can be a problem when listening to audio BUT (oh, you just knew that was coming) the female narrator, Rebecca Lowman, has a lifeless delivery that did such a dis-service to an emotional, lively character like Eleanor. The male narrator, Sunil Malhotra, does a better job with Park. His voice is youthful and his take on Park’s Korean mom cracked me up but he tends to get a little monotonous at times too. The narration wasn’t a deal breaker and didn’t by any means ruin the book for me but it could’ve been improved. Some of my most favorite quotes:
“She never looked nice. She looked like art and art wasn’t supposed to look nice. It was supposed to make you feel something.”
“He’d thought he was over caring about what people thought of him. He’d thought that loving Eleanor proved that. But he kept finding new pockets of shallow inside himself. He kept finding new ways to betray her.”
“I don’t like you. I need you.”
Ahhh, first love! Five stars because I’m feeling easy today and this is one I’ll want to revisit.