Elena and Eugene both live in Paterson, New Jersey and attend Public School No. 13. Elena has been there longer, though, because Eugene moves into the house next door to her apartment building just before their freshman year of high school. She's Puerto Rican and he's White and from Georgia, but both are misfits in a predominantly African American school. Elena takes a liking to him for a couple of reasons. First, she figures they both could use a friend; and second, he lives in the house that she spies into while reading on her fire escape. She longs to sit with him at the kitchen table and read just like the old couple would do before they moved. Elena explains more of what they share in the following passage:
"I did not tell Eugene that I could see inside his kitchen from my bedroom. I felt dishonest, but I liked my secret sharing of his evenings, especially now that I knew what he was reading since we chose our books together at the school library" (Lines 160-164).
Hence, the two also like the same books and become pretty good friends. As they hang out with each other around school, the other students call them by the nicknames they have chosen for them: "Skinny Bones" and "the Hick."
Unfortunately, they both must live in a prejudiced society because Eugene's mother won't let her enter the home to study with her son. Elena is shocked and saddened that her only friend's mother would treat her that way, thus ending any hopes of Elena and Eugene sharing anything further.