Why does Elena like Eugene in "American History"?
There are a couple of reasons that Elena likes Eugene. First, he lives in the house next to her tenement building and is living the life that she wants. She dreams of sitting at the kitchen table in his house to read and to eat like the older couple who lived there before. She dreams of a time when she can have a backyard to lounge in and soak up the sun; so, becoming his friend might give her access to realizing those dreams. But it's not just his house that entices her to befriend Eugene. Elena also doesn't have any friends at Public School Number 13. The majority of students at school are African American and they tease her for being Puerto Rican. She hopes that making a friend of the new boy might give her some happiness and joy at school, too. Elena even says the following:
"There was only one source of beauty and light for me that school year--the only thing I had anticipated at the start of the semester. That was seeing Eugene . . . I liked him right away because he sat at the kitchen table and read books for hours."
Elena therefore likes Eugene because he represents a new opportunity for her to have a friend at school, he likes to read books at his kitchen table, and he was living her dream.
Elena—or "Skinny Bones" as the bullies at school call her—feels a kinship with Eugene because he reads, as she does. Elena is a straight A student, but is held back by the prejudice of the school from the higher classes. She is not allowed to demonstrate her knowledge. Eugene is a reader like herself and lives in her favorite house—so she naturally seeks him out. When she does, although she fears rejection and is even prepared for it, she finds someone with whom she can share her ideas, her knowledge, and her dreams. Eugene is naturally shy and quiet, so he likes to listen. Elena is outgoing, but she has no one who will listen to her. It's the perfect friendship, made stronger by the fact that they are both isolated and alone in their community.