Review: Eleanor by Johnny Worthen

Aw man, this is the first book I finished this year. Holy crap. I can’t believe I went from blog tour maniac to zero books in about a year. I feel sad about it really, but it is what it is, and hopefully, this book is just the beginning of more books. Yayyy.

Anyway, here’s what I thought of the book. Don’t forget to enter the giveaway at the end of this post.

About the book

It was a gamble for Eleanor to rejoin humanity, but she was driven to it. She’d been too successful forgetting. The last vestiges of her family hung by a thread in her transformed brain and drove her to be reckless. Ten years later, Eleanor hides in plain sight. She is an average girl getting average grades in a small Wyoming town: poor but happy, lonely but loved. Her mother, Tabitha, is there for her and that’s all she’s ever needed. But now her mother is sick and David has returned. The only friend she’d ever had, the only other person who knows her secret, is back. And Eleanor again becomes reckless.

Eleanor is a modest girl, unremarkable but extraordinary, young but old, malleable but fixed. She is scared and confused. She is a liar and a thief. Eleanor is not what she appears to be.

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My thoughts on the book

I was curious about this book because of the whole “rejoin humanity” bit and “Eleanor is not what she appears to be.” Immediately, I thought, great, this girl’s got some deep dark secret, count me in. It’s a little hard to talk about the book without giving away the story, but I will try not to spoil anything.

Eleanor is an odd, strange girl and she does her best not to stand out or get noticed. She’s smarter than everyone, brilliant even, and pretty athletic, but she can’t allow herself to excel in anything because she’s got to remain average lest she pops up on people’s radar. Actually, she’s already on people’s radar but as an outcast and people generally don’t like her and that’s saying it nicely. Everyone, that is, except her mother Tabitha and David, her childhood friend who moved back to town. When David moves back to town and starts hanging out with Eleanor again, her life takes an interesting turn.

The book is essentially a coming-of-age story of sorts. It’s about being yourself and accepting yourself. It’s about young love. It’s about family, too, to some extent. It’s about Eleanor experiencing life as a teenage girl who is actually more than just a girl. The character of Eleanor is based on a Native American legend and it is this “true identity” of Eleanor that is at the center of the story.

I liked the book though I was more interested in the legend than in the “young adult” story. I liked the author’s take on the legend and I would’ve liked to see more about it in the novel. I just realized though that this is the first book in some sort of series, so I guess – or hope – the next books delve deeper into the legend. It is such a fascinating premise.

I received a copy of this book for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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Guest Post by the Author

I asked the author about how he came up with the idea for the story and the characters.

I was on vacation in Taos New Mexico with my family, an off-season trip when the desert was inviting and the crowds thin if there were any at all. Sightseeing, we drove around the north shore of Eagle Nest Lake just east of town. We’d been to the pueblo the day before and Native Americans were on our mind. The windows were down, the wind full of sage and dust and I was thinking about new writing projects.

The idea burst like a bomb in my brain. All the pieces fell into place on that road. I could probably find the very spot if I went back. Family and kids, change and age, the West, Native Americans and small towns. I had a story. It would be a story about growing lonely but loved, facing challenges while hiding in plain sight: ELEANOR.

(SPOILERS)

One of the pieces to go critical that day was the germ of a Navajo legend I first encountered reading Tony Hillerman. The book was SKINWALKERS, it’s a Leaphorn / Chee mystery. I read my library dry of them one summer a while ago.

Anyway, Hillerman’s Skinwalkers was a side concept, an evil magician bringing a supernatural flavor to a caper the Navajo detectives ultimately unravel. However, there was another aspect of the legend, that of a shape shifter.

I shouldn’t have been, but I was surprised at the time to learn that the Navajo had legends about such things. That got me doing research. It didn’t take long to see how many cultures have similar legends.

That got me thinking maybe If so many different cultures so far apart across so many centuries have similar stories, maybe there’s something to it.

I conceived not of a shaman, not a man working spells and spirits, but a parallel species, cousin to man and still alive today. Hiding among us. Hiding in plane sight.

I combined the concept of my adolescent girl, poor, powerless, ignored in a small drive-through town in the middle of nowhere, with the legends and my new species. I steered clear of the lycanthrope tropes and went with the simple idea of camouflage. I couldn’t remove the threat to human life from such a deceitful creature, but neither would I remove the humanity from it. I saw them as walking another evolutionary path. An ultimate endangered species. Confused and scared. Vulnerable. Misunderstood. Eleanor.

 

About the Author

JOHNNY WORTHEN graduated with a B.A. in English and Master’s in American Studies from the University of Utah. After a series of businesses and adventures, including running his own bakery, Worthen found himself drawn to the only thing he ever wanted to do—write. And write he does. When he’s not pounding on his keyboard or attending writers conferences, Worthen spends his time with his wife and two boys in Sandy, Utah.

Connect with the author: Website | Blog | Facebook | TwitterGoodreads

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