Eleanor is powerful and emotionally raw. Jason Gurley delivers a story that is both heartbreaking and thought provoking all at once. This one is full of deep symbolism and imagery, and will take you on a journey of sadness and anger, entwined in a fantasy world.
The Plot: Eleanor begins in the year 1962 centered around Eleanor, her husband Hob, and her daughter Agnes. We witness, what we know in this day and age, to be depression in Eleanor. In 1963 Eleanor goes for a swim in the ocean, never to return. The story jumps to her daughter, Agnes, and her husband Paul and twins Esmerelda and Eleanor. It is during this time we witness another tragedy and lose Esmerelda. Another story jump takes us 8 years in to the future, and it is here where we witness the heartbreaking after effects of Esmerelda’s death. Eleanor, now 14, is the center of the story, left to deal with her mother’s depression and alcoholism, when she begins disappearing and reappearing in strange worlds uncontrollably. It is these strange “in-between places” that may just help put her family back together.
I don’t know that I have ever been so emotionally affected by a book before Eleanor. Eleanor brings to light issues of depression, postpartum depression, and alcoholism. From the beginning, we can see that the Eleanor of 1963 is suffering from depression.
“Her attacks come all the time now, but she finds quiet, dark places- such as the closet floor, behind Hob’s hanging shirts and sweaters- and cries there, where nobody can see her.” (Gurley, 21).
It is obvious that it is not well understood at that time, but Gurley did such an exquisite job of conveying it in the first chapter of the story that I understood why Eleanor felt she only had one option.
Later we see how this time period and this act has left a lasting impression on Agnes. I could feel the emotional scarring she had from losing her mother at such a young age. Things didn’t feel quite right between her and her children because of this. It is because of her childhood and the depression already present in Agnes that she resorts to alcoholism after the tragic accident.
Reading the scene where we lose Esmerelda was probably the hardest thing I have EVER had to read! I felt the loss alongside Agnes and Eleanor. I understood why the depression and emotional scarring later in the story would result from the accident. I also understood why Agnes grew to resent Eleanor afterward (though I hated Agnes for feeling that way).
Years after the accident, Gurley shows us the immense strain left on the family. Paul has moved out, Eleanor feels lost and alone, and Agnes has turned in to a 24/7 alcoholic. Paul still loves his daughter, but there is a strain between them because Eleanor feels responsible for taking care of her mother.
“I’m the only thing keeping her from drinking until she’s dead.” (Gurley 163).
Agnes is passed out about 90% of the time and, when she is awake, she spews anger and hatred toward Eleanor. She blames her for the accident and nothing convinces her to stop drinking.
“Her mother takes only a few days to return to her habits, the fright of Eleanor’s disappearance not a powerful enough catalyst to disrupt the routine.” (Gurley, 122).
There is so much symbolism in this book representing the struggles of depression and the feeling of helplessness. It’s not just a “sci-fi” novel. Eleanor brings light to tragedy and emotional imbalances that are sometimes beyond our control. We see this played out when Eleanor enters the dreams of her parents from the “in-between”. We feel this when we are shown how Agnes suffered from postpartum depression.
“She feels as if they are unevenly matched: he is ecstatic to be a father and cannot understand why Agnes is not similarly excited.” (Gurley 316).
And we see this through the eyes of a 14 year old who is not only living with all this tragedy and going through normal teenage hormones and changes, but also going through something so bizarre and supernatural, that only the memories of the past can help her through.
You will not make it through this one with dry eyes. Jason Gurley has written something exquisitely and emotionally powerful with Eleanor. I have a heavy heart after reading this one, and, though, I did not discuss the “sci-fi” aspect of the book much, I feel that it was fantastically written and gives the book the necessary symbolic imagery and coping mechanisms needed to fully comprehend the complexity of the heartbreaking struggles that not only live and breathe in this book, but also exist throughout the real world.
Thank you to Blogging For Books for providing this free review copy in exchange for my honest review!