You could argue that all teenage girls are self-centered survivalist monsters at heart, at times unlovable, wholly malleable, and subject to the whims of the adults around them.
But in Eleanor’s case these typical teen traits are a little more literal.
Eleanor the Unseen is the first in a trilogy by Johnny Worthen that explores love in many forms: redemptive, passionate, maternal, transformative, first, true, self, and sacrificial. It’s a theme repeated in metaphor and action both gentle and terrifying. Johnny has a knack for drawing the reader into his world like a warm bath. Just don’t get too comfortable. And for heaven’s sake, don’t close your eyes.
On the surface, Eleanor is a YA horror novel about a monster that flies under the radar masquerading as a shy Wyoming teen growing up in a small town on the edge of an Indian reservation. The town itself is a character with all its stifling contradictions playing a part in Eleanor’s decisions as the plot progresses. David, a military kid, was Eleanor’s best childhood friend who knew all her secrets and her heart—until he moved. In their sophomore year, David returns, and Eleanor can no longer hide behind her hair.
Despite its premise, Eleanor is a literary work that builds gradually. It echoes other great works including Grendel, I Heard the Owl Call My Name, and even To Kill a Mockingbird. But don’t let that fool you. There are some horrific scenes in the story that showcase how very alien—and therefore human—the monster is. But rawer than the monster’s survivalist thoughts and actions is Tabitha’s debilitating cancer. Tabitha, Eleanor’s foster mother, races against time to prepare her daughter for life without her. At the heart of the book is their symbiotic redemptive love, a love so strong that it has the power to work miracles.
But don’t forget. Eleanor the Unseen is a horror story, too.
For me, the most realized characters in the story were Eleanor and Tabitha, which sometimes made other key characters like David seem a little underdeveloped in comparison. I also felt that the ending was rushed given the previous pace of the book, but I think I understand why: Johnny wants to hurry the reader past the clearing of the first course to the next tasty morsel in a lazy Sunday brunch. I spent a morning reading Eleanor in one delicious gulp; yes, it’s that good.
Eleanor the Unseen by Johnny Worthen is published by Jolly Fish Press and is available for pre-order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and wherever fine books are sold. Eleanor‘s publication date is July 1, 2014.