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.