Book Review: Eleanor by Jason Gurley

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May 10, 2016
Have you ever read a book so good, it almost ruined reading for you? Not forever, but for at least two weeks, you can’t think about anything but that book and no matter how many times you try to start another book, it just won’t work because that other book won’t let you focus?

That was Eleanor for me these past two weeks. Book hangovers are real, y’all!

It’s 1963 and Eleanor is at home. She's married, with a young daughter and a baby on the way, but all she can think about is the ocean. She could have been a professional swimmer or a diver, but that was before life happened. Life happened. Like she didn't have a choice, like there's no way out. It's then that she becomes aware of her unhappiness and goes looking for a way out.

It’s 1985 and Eleanor’s daughter is older now with two children of her own, twins Eleanor and Esmeralda. She's frustrated because motherhood is hard (and she never had the chance to learn by example), and trying to wrangle two easily excitable little girls into a car seems to be an impossible task to be done by just one person. But she succeeds, finally.

There's a storm. Then a crash. Eleanor survives but Esmeralda isn't as lucky. It's 1993 and Eleanor is 14, burdened by grief and the dissolution of her family. And that's when it starts happening. Over and over, she seems to fall through the boundaries of time and space and on the other side, a familiar someone waits for her.

Eleanor seems to be an ode to the grieving process and how it affects every person (and generations, even) differently. Whether it’s grief over missed opportunities or the passing of someone you love, everyone has a unique way of dealing with this emotion—some people try to rise above it, while others just let it consume them, and the worst part is: you can’t blame them for that. In this particular instance, Eleanor’s family let the grief tear them apart (as it often does to families when a child dies) and it was very interesting to see how it affected them all in their everyday lives and in their dreams.

This book was magical and sad and it broke my heart. Aside from the obvious elements of grief presented, Jason Gurley managed to tap even deeper into these characters emotions and showcase their feelings in very subtle and unique ways. Reading the author notes at the end I discovered that it took him 14 years to write this story and at first I was puzzled by that; I know writing is hard, but that long? The more I thought about the book, though, and all the intricacies within it, I began to understand. This is a story that is well thought-out from start to finish, with some details revealed from the beginning that don’t make sense until you’re well into the story, and whole scenes that seem nonsensical and out of place until you’re almost nearing the end. It reminded me of what J.K. Rowling did over the span of 7 books, setting up seemingly innocuous events that ended up being very important pieces of a much larger plot. Pulling that off can’t be easy!

Pulling that off takes approximately 14 years, but I’m sure all that time is worth it when the end result is a book so detailed, emotional and beautiful, it’s difficult to stop thinking about it weeks later.

My favorite parts of this book were the parts infused with magical realism. Even though they were confusing at first, they added mystery to the story and a sense of urgency because just like Eleanor, you have no idea what’s happening or why. It was then that I realized I was invested in the story and the fate of these characters—my heart broke every time Eleanor interacted with her mom, I felt as helpless as her friend Jack did at times, and it made me anxious realizing that while it seemed like Eleanor “disappeared” for only a short amount of time, she was actually losing weeks and months and years off her life.

I had no idea how much I actually enjoyed magical realism until this book. You have to commend an author that adds fantasy and magic to everyday life and makes it seem believable. You have to give them even more credit when they do that without losing sight of their characters! If your characters are still the strongest, most compelling part of your fantasy book, then you deserve all the appreciation and respect in the world.

And don’t let me get started on the writing! Gurley used such gorgeous prose; his writing is emotional and very descriptive, and every word seemed to have a purpose and be meticulously placed. And he managed to pull off the one thing that usually bothers me about books—the ending! It was ambiguous, but it felt right, like just because the book is over doesn’t mean that Eleanor’s story is. I have mentioned this before on social media, but if Jason Gurley had written 500 pages, I would have gladly welcomed those, too!

As you can probably tell, I really loved this book. I tried to think of at least one thing that didn't work for me or that I didn't enjoy but came up with nothing, so I’ll leave it at that. This is a very emotional book and probably not for everyone, but I definitely recommend it! If you think this is something you would enjoy? Go pick up your copy, stat!


(I’d like to thank Crown Publishing for providing me with a digital ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)
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