Booksellers and libraries in my area seem to promote authors in our region. This is a good thing. Feeling somewhat dissatisfied with the science fiction I’ve been attempting to swallow the past year, I turned to a volume my local library marked “fantasy” on its spine, Jason Gurley’s Eleanor.
As I read the cover, I thought a fusion of genres would appeal. Eleanor is YA coming-of-age fiction, “urban” fantasy in a small-town setting, and a wrenching exploration of loss encompassing three 20th century decades of a family’s tragic misfortune.
Most of the novel finds title character as a precocious teen who can somehow travel to strange realms outside of ordinary life, even to her family’s past. As the narrative unfolds, she deals with an abusive, alcoholic mother, a divorced, distant father, a boy who is a kindred spirit, and the death of a twin sister. The strong point is how the author handles the emotional life of a troubled teen. Mr Gurley struggles a bit to present the fantasy elements decently. When young Eleanor is sent to a “dream” world to embark on a quest that will change history and save her family from tragedy, it gets a bit weird and disconnected. The novel introduces some elements that are never quite resolved and left me with some questions. Mainly, “What was that part about?”
There are stumbles that keep this book from the category of “very good.” There’s a mention of a college athletic scholarship for Eleanor’s grandmother–such a thing didn’t exist in the 1960’s. It would be an easy solve to move the story to 1980-2010, and a good editor would offer that advice.
The episode with six-year-old Eleanor and her twin lacked believability. Young children can be precocious, but they were written to talk and think like the book’s teenagers. Another easy fix: move the accident to age ten or eleven and adjust the timeline a bit.
I don’t think I’d want to be a book editor. And since Eleanor is already published, there’s not much to do about it now. But if I were Mr Gurley’s editor at Crown and this landed on my desk, I’d send it back with a mixture of disappointement and praise. The man definitely has the chops to make improvements on an excellent story wrapped with some mediocre elements. I would be interested to see how the author matures as a writer and tightens up his research and plotting. Otherwise, it’s a good page-turner if you like modern fantasy with some twists.