Published by Crown on January 12, 2016
Genres: Fiction, Adult, Fantasy, Magical Realism
Format: Print, Hardcover
Eleanor and Esmerelda are identical twins with a secret language all their own, inseparable until a terrible accident claims Esme’s life. Eleanor’s family is left in tatters: her mother retreats inward, seeking comfort in bottles; her father reluctantly abandons ship. Eleanor is forced to grow up more quickly than a child should, and becomes the target of her mother’s growing rage.
Years pass, and Eleanor’s painful reality begins to unravel in strange ways. The first time it happens, she walks through a school doorway, and finds herself in a cornfield, beneath wide blue skies. When she stumbles back into her own world, time has flown by without her. Again and again, against her will, she falls out of her world and into other, stranger ones, leaving behind empty rooms and worried loved ones.
One fateful day, Eleanor leaps from a cliff and is torn from her world altogether. She meets a mysterious stranger, Mea, who reveals to Eleanor the weight of her family’s loss. To save her broken parents, and rescue herself, Eleanor must learn how deep the well of her mother’s grief and her father’s heartbreak truly goes. Esmerelda’s death was not the only tragic loss in her family’s fragmented history, and unless Eleanor can master her strange new abilities, it may not be the last.
In this book we follow the three generations of women in this novel. The novel opens in 1962, which is where we first meet a woman named Eleanor. Eleanor, her husband Hob, and their daughter Anges seem like a happy family, until you read a little farther. We then notice that Eleanor is often off in her own thoughts, and she often has to find a place to be alone, a place where she can cry. It is clear that she is suffering from depression, though it’s not really a subject that people seem to know about. She finds solace in diving, and she does her diving off the cliffs at Huffnaggle Island. One day in 1963, Eleanor walks into the sea, and never returns. Reading about Eleanor and her struggles was so moving, it just made me feel so strongly attached to her character. Gurley was able to do this in such a short amount of space within the book, it shows that he is able to expertly capture and convey the feelings of his characters.
From there we are taken to 1983, where we see Agnes, Eleanor’s daughter, and her two 6 year old children, twins, Eleanor (named after her grandmother) and Esmerelda. It is also clear that losing her mother has had a lasting effect on Agnes. We can see signs that she may be suffering from depression, just as her mother had. This spirals when their family is torn apart by a terrible accident that claims Esmerelda’s life, and the family is left devastated.
We then jump to 1993, when 14 year old Eleanor becomes the central character of the story. It’s been 8 years since her sister’s death, and Agnes grows increasingly bitter and resentful towards Eleanor. Eleanor’s father, Paul has moved out, and she is left to live with her mother. Agnes has begun to drown out her feelings in alcohol, and spends most of her time passed out in the living room.Eleanor is dealing with both her grief, and living with her alcoholic mother. Her life seems extremely bleak when we witness the amount of hatred that her mother feels toward her, because she blames her for the accident. Eleanor feels responsible for taking care of Agnes, and stays with her despite the abuse her mother spews at her. You really feel for Eleanor and feel her emotions when this happens. She’s such a strong character that I sometimes forgot that she was only 14. Eleanor is one of those characters that will stick with you long after you finish this book.
Eleanor’s life changes completely when she finds herself in a completely different world. One minute she’s at school, and the next, she’s in a field under a bright blue sky. She enters the dream worlds of her family members; her father’s dreamworld is much different from her mother and each time she enters Agnes’ world, it gets increasingly dark. The world is a mirror of Agnes’ reality. It is filled with terrible pain and grief. It is in this dream world that Eleanor learns that her mother has in fact suffered from postpartum depression. Gurley does such an amazing job showing the reader how these things can affect people. When we enter Agnes’ dream world we are able to really get a glimpse inside her head and how she feels. It makes you feel the intense emotion, and the weight of these emotions.
I was so intensely attached to these characters. While Agnes may not have been the most likeable character, given the way she treated her daughter. Gurley was able to make the reader feel for her. I have to say, I didn’t pity Agnes and what her life had become, I very much empathized with her. This is not a happy book to read, but I definitely think it was intended to make the reader feel the emotions of the characters. I really felt sad, and anxious for Eleanor throughout the entire novel. I think it shows how good the writing is because I needed to know what was happening to the characters, I needed to know what happened, even though it was difficult subject matter.
This book is wonderful, I mean it. I really, really liked this book. I was suffering from a bit of a book hang over when I picked this one up, and it was just what I needed. I had just finished reading the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman, and I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to read. This book reminded me a bit of His Dark Materials and also a bit of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Reading this was really a rollercoaster of emotions, and I’m so glad that I heard about this book, and I’m so thankful that I heard about this book. It was pretty much the perfect amount of magical realism for me. The writing made everything seem so vivid, and everything was so wonderfully done. If you haven’t already, definitely check this one out. It will make you feel so many things. I plan to read any books that Gurley releases from now on.
Let me know down in the comments if you’ve read it, or if you’re interested in reading it. Also, if you’d like to purchase this book, feel free to do so through my Book Depository affiliate link here.