Eleanor by Johnny Worthen
Release Date: July 1st, 2014
Publisher: Jolly Fish Press
Genre: Young adult, horror, literary
Synopsis: 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.
Review: Much like the title character, Eleanor is full of contradictions. No, contradictions isn't quite the right word. Let's call it surprises. I didn't really know what to expect from this book. It has all the hallmarks of a mass market YA horror, but comes neatly packaged with an emotional depth that borders on literary.
Eleanor's story begins as a mystery. She's a shy girl who keeps to herself and spends most of her time taking care of her ailing foster mother. From the start, we know there is something not quite right about Eleanor, but this wrongness, this monster, isn't fully articulated for some time. When David, Eleanor's long-lost childhood friend, returns to their small town, all of the darkest parts of Eleanor begin to rise to the surface.
My favorite part of Eleanor is the unflinching way it approached timeless, human themes: loss, friendship, family, and the dark parts inside all of us that we'd rather no one knew about. On the surface, Eleanor is a drop in the YA "paranormance" bucket, but if you take the time to read it, you'll find it is so much more.
An Interview with Johnny Worthen
Kelsy: Johnny, I'd love to show my readers a guest post about the research that goes into a novel. Would you be able to tell us about the research you conducted for Eleanor?
Johnny: ELEANOR and the entire THE UNSEEN series is ultimately a character study of the ultimate outsider. For Eleanor, the main character, my research came in the writing, the exploration of emotion and event, fear, love trust, adolescence, conformity and loss. Survival and debt.
That being said, beyond my own imagination and experience, I had to fix the place of Jamesford Wyoming in my head with so much familiarity that I could walk its streets at night and not get lost.
I knew from the very beginning that after Eleanor, even before Tabitha and David, the places would be major characters in the story.
Jamesford is a fictional town. It is not far from Dubois, Wyoming. I used Dubois as something of a template and had originally intended to use it outright, but it wasn’t quite what I needed. Nevertheless, I researched Dubois for some time, reading its history, events and census. I found a webcam that looked down onto main street and had that playing on my computer for half a year while I wrote. True story.
The big deal however, was when I poured my family in van and drove there on the way to South Dakota. My family thought we going to Mount Rushmore. That was an excuse to get us to Wyoming, Dubois in particular. Oh, the lonely roads we took to get there. Empty highways stretching for miles between tiny towns and distant farms. Beautiful lonely country. Just as I imagined it.
We stayed a night in Dubois. I found that web cam and stood in front of it and waved like an idiot. If anyone besides me actually watches that, I’m sure they thought I was mad.
Eleanor’s house was the second most important bit of research I did. I searched long and hard for floor-plans of appropriate old homes. When I found it and placed it and put Tabitha within it, Eleanor in the loft it was like coming home.
I dug into legends and myths but mostly for inspiration more than research. I had to incorporate some Navajo language throughout the series, some Shoshone too, so there was that. By the way, there’s infinitely more Navajo related sites than Shoshone on the internet, a testimony to the tribe’s survival. Same with books. The best source I found for Shoshone legends came from a book I bought on the Wind River Reservation on our trip across Wyoming.
I’ve written books that have required more research than ELEANOR (THE UNSEEN), but none so important and long lasting. I know Jamesford and Eleanor’s little house like I grew up there myself. I lived there while I wrote it and visit it frequently in my thoughts.
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.