Thursday, December 17, 2015


Eleanor and Esmeralda are identical twins. Their father Paul is always there and they have many happy memories together, but their mother Agnes is always distant. One day, a horrific chain of events leads to the death of Esmeralda in a car crash on the way to pick up Paul from the airport. Years later, Agnes drowns her sorrows in cheap whiskey while Eleanor cleans up her messes and makes sure she doesn't die. Agnes has nothing but hate for everyone around her, especially Eleanor, who she blames for Esmeralda's death. It's a relatively normal day at school until Eleanor goes through the doorway to the cafeteria and ends up observing a memory from her childhood. She returns in new clothes, losing some time. She has no idea how or why it happened, but it happens again and again, sometimes with disastrous effects. Is she going crazy?

Eleanor tells the story of a girl working to heal her family. The format isn't straight forward. It jumps around in time, dimension, and perspective. The beginning is a little confusing, but things just come together and reveal themselves in time. Two characters named Eleanor were confusing at first and I started making some very wrong assumptions, but once things were clear, I was hooked. The characters are well done and realistic. I particularly liked the way Agnes was written. It would have been so easy to demonize her for feelings trapped by motherhood and not full heartedly enjoying it as it seems most women do. Her mother (Eleanor's namesake) abandoning her at a young age had a huge effect on her, so it's understandable that she was hesitant. Then when disaster strikes, she's broken, lashing out at absolutely everyone and herself. Eleanor was also an interesting character. She's a pretty normal teenager, but she chooses to take care of her purposefully invalid mother.  Every day she tries to nourish her mother, take care of her, and show her love only to be soundly rejected over and over. It's a special type of person that can still have hope after years and years of being beaten down and she shows it through her mission to save her family.

The fantasy elements tie the story together beautifully. Mea, a formless being in the Rift coached by another formless being called Efah, is drawn to Eleanor and wants to bring her to the Rift. Time after time she fails, a few times causing Eleanor terrible bodily harm. Eleanor goes to different people's dream worlds in her journey and gains insight about them. The Rift and its inhabitants also tie all of the different generations together. All of the details just fall together gradually and make sense. Throughout most of the novel, I thought a particular storyline involving a sorceress and her valley just seemed out of place, but when it came time very late in the novel, it made perfect sense and belonged.

Eleanor is a unique fantasy novel that is about family at its core. I enjoy reading things that challenge norms and offer different perspectives. I haven't seen or read a fantasy world quite like this before and I loved how revelations were doled out carefully and over time. I expect other great books from Jason Gurley in the future.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

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