I devoured Rowell's Fangirl this winter, and I devoured this book months later. I love how she writes young women--creative, smart, not necessarily nice, but unique and likable. They're often self-conscious, as young women (or women period) tend to be, yet they're not shrinking violets (maybe Cath was somewhat in Fangirl, but that's a part of her arc). Here we get a young guy's point of view as well as Eleanor and Park's stories switch back and forth or even overlap in one scene. That's one reason why the book read so fast: it's chopped up with these pov changes, and you want to know what's going through the other character's head.
Besides the developing romance that also had an element of nostalgia for me since I grew up in the 80s/90s, I really appreciated what this book shows about class--that it's a huge factor for how kids in school treat one another; how even things like batteries and blank tapes for walkmans and mix tapes are a luxury. The bullying is awful and familiar, whether you were bullied (verbally), did some bullying yourself, or were a bystander. The truth behind who writes dirty things on Eleanor's books, though, whether you anticipate it or not, is even more disturbing. The way Park is a refuge for Eleanor, in particular, rings true, though Park takes refuge in Eleanor in his own way.
In addition to class, this book can be an upsetting picture of family abuse; Eleanor's mother is unable to leave her awful husband (the kids' stepfather) and doesn't even seem like she cares to. Eleanor's father is a different kind of loser. Eleanor lives in fear whenever she's home and even when she's not.
I worried somewhat about Park's portrayal as an Asian guy; it felt both like he was being characterized as stereotypically feminine (both by other characters and generally) and like the author was critiquing that characterization (there is some playing with gender for both Park and Eleanor, who dresses like a man). Finally there's a part where Park raises this concern himself, to Eleanor, and I felt a bit better about the issue.
This probably sounds depressing, but Rowell offers plenty of bright moments and hope. The ending was a little abrupt, but I also tore through the last third. I think it ends in a hopeful place, and at the very least, it's a wonderful portrayal of first love.