I really, really liked this love story. Though I admit that at first I was not sure it was really a YA novel. First of all it takes place in 1986 (which practically makes it historical fiction) and is filled with references, musically mainly, that no young adult is going to understand. After finishing, I accept that those references do not really inhibit understanding. What really matters is the relationship between Eleanor and Park. Eleanor has lived a difficult life. Her mother is married to a dirtbag. They live in a hovel. She shares a tiny bedroom with three brothers and a sister. There is no door on the bathroom. All of this has given Eleanor what one might call a crusty demeanor. Her first day on the school bus after having recently returned to live with her family, she meets Park who saves her by offering her a seat on the bus. Their romances moves slooooowly after this. So slowly as to be frustrating to a reader, but completely realistically given the circumstances.
Park's home situation is heaven compared to Eleanor's. Park's biggest issue is in being bi-racial; half Korean, half caucasian. In Omaha in 1986 this is more difficult for him that it would be today. He feels detached from both cultures and not sure where he belongs. He also has an ex-military father who wishes his son were more of a "man." Though when it is important, such as the time Park needs to defend Eleanor from unkindess, he steps up in a way no one would label as "unmanly."
The story is told alternately by Eleanor and Park which is a sometimes annoying storytelling method as it has become somewhat too prevelent for my tastes. It is also makes the reader want to scream at the two as we know that at moments Eleanor and Park are feeling and thinking similarly but because they hesitate to share misunderstandings ensue. However, when so many adults are not adept at communicating with each other these teens actually do pretty well.
Despite some of my misgivings at the beginning I would not hesitate to recommend this to teen readers. I also think readers of my age group who were teens in 1986 would enjoy the story and find the references nostalgic.