In an otherwise miserable school year, there's one bright spot for Elena. His name is Eugene. Eugene's the new kid at school, who's just moved with his family to Paterson, New Jersey from the South. They live in Elena's neighborhood, in a house formerly occupied by an old Jewish couple.
Elena lives not far from Eugene and his family in an apartment block colloquially known as El Building. From her bedroom, Elena can see Eugene inside his kitchen, where he sits at the table and reads books for hours. To the bookish Elena, this only makes the tall, handsome Eugene even more attractive.
Before long, Elena has developed a major crush on Eugene, and she plucks up the courage to talk to him. Much to Elena's delight—and relief—Eugene, though painfully shy, seems to like her, and over the next few weeks, they regularly walk home together.
Eventually, they arrange to study together at Eugene's house. Elena's very excited at the prospect, but her excitement turns to crushing disappointment when Eugene's mom won't let her into the house. Although she doesn't come right out and say it, it's clear that Eugene's mom is prejudiced against Elena on account of her being Puerto Rican.