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Setting as Character, a Review & a Recipe – Eleanor by @JohnnyWorthen


Today I have Johnny Worthen on the blog with a three part post! I am lucky to also be a reviewer for Jolly Fish Press occasionally. I was approached a while ago and this book ended up being read twice because I read it way before April and had to read it again for the review. As with my last review, this one could be deconstructed in one of my classes and used to show just how it’s done. Johnny Worthen is an author to watch out for!

setting-as-characterJamesford in Eleanor, The Unseen

Eleanor is an extraordinary girl pretending to be ordinary. She hides in plain sight in Jamesford, a small rural town somewhere between Yellowstone and Dubois on the lonely roads that no one travels.

When I conceived of ELEANOR, I saw the story of a shy but wondrous girl growing up in a small town. I saw it not as a three act thriller, nor as a Shakespearean five act drama, but more along the lines of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Richard Adam’s Watership Down, gentle tales of place and progress. A fable, if you will.

I originally wanted her home to be a real place, but sensing the importance of it, the trauma and wonders I was going to subject it to, it’s metaphor and mirror, I invented Jamesford.

Jamesford is Eleanor’s home. It didn’t used to be, but it is now and she’s losing it.

To understand Eleanor and you must understand where she lives. You must understand it’s beauty and its ugliness, its people and monuments. You must know why she came here, know why she remains. You must feel at home. That is the key.

The changing seasons, the moods and fads, her home and bedroom, the trivial events of grocery stores and banks, schools and woods are all there not just as setting but as character. Every space is an emotional color that like Eleanor, can change and be full of contradiction. Safety one minute, danger the next.

Eleanor, The Unseen rises gradually, gently, in tone and suspense, letting the reader settle in, walk the streets of Jamesford with the shy girl who knows herself to be a stranger. Jamesford is more than background. It is metaphor and stage, mirror and antagonist. Lover, enemy and goal. It is the context upon the fable of ELEANOR’s is told.

Eleanor’s relationship to Jamesford is at the heart of the story. Jamesford has its own character arc, subtle but omnipresent. It is complicated place, like Eleanor herself. While Eleanor comes to love and hope, understand and possibly accept, so too does Jamesford struggle with the fearful little girl who wants to ignored, but can’t be.

I know Eleanor as one of my children. I love her as only a father can. I know too Jamesford, it’s roads and secret places. I can walk its hidden paths in the dark and arrive at Tabitha’s tomato plants without waking the neighbor’s dog. These things are alive in me and I hope that the experience will be shared with my readers.

 “In the back of the house, away from the pine’s shadow, Eleanor grew tomatoes in buckets in the sunny spots. She had ten plants as tall as she was and as cared for as the flowers. She’d planted them in old five-gallon plastic pales she’d found discarded in a dump heap. To support them, she made frames from whatever she could find. She used wood from fallen aspen trees and splintered posts, wire from a cast-off chain-link fence, and, for delicate string, threads of trimmed telephone wire she’d found under a green switch box behind the post office . The tomatoes themselves had been nursed from seed in the winter in the back window of the kitchen.


About Johnny Worthen

Setting as Character, a Review & a Recipe - Eleanor by @JohnnyWorthen

JOHNNY WORTHEN grew up in the high desert snows and warm summer winds of the Wasatch Mountains. He graduated with a B.A. in English, minor in Classics and a Master's in American Studies from the University of Utah. After a series of businesses and adventures, including years abroad and running his own bakery, Johnny found himself drawn to the only thing he ever wanted to do -- write. And write he does. Well versed in modern literary criticism and cultural studies, Johnny writes upmarket multi-genre fiction - thriller, horror, young adult, comedy and mystery so far. "I write what I like to read," he says. "That guarantees me at least one fan and a hectic job for my publicist."

When not pounding on his keyboard, attending conferences and conventions, Johnny Worthen can be found with his wife and two boys in Sandy, Utah.

Note from author: Why Tie-Dye? I was told at my first Grateful Dead show that you wear tie-dye not for yourself but for your friends. You're welcome.


Eleanor stole my heart from the minute I began reading the book. Just this morning I was dealing with the brooding daughter who when growing up pulled the hoodies over her head, wore dull colors and just did not want to be seen. If she is noticed she is bullied and even if she is not she is sneered and laughed at. Funny I was dealing with my daughter this morning who started off her high school career like this. Growing up pulled the hoodies over her head and her bangs in her face, wore dull colors and just did not want to be seen. If she is noticed she is bullied and because she was thought to have an extreme learning disability even some teachers would bully her.  This is how Eleanor deals with it, but for more than your typical teenage reasons.

There are a lot of things this book can be said to be about. Above all I argue this books main theme is love, but again it is about so much more. As with many well written pieces of literary fiction, all aspects are well balanced and everything in it has a reason to be there. I will argue with many who have read Eleanor, including the author, that she is a monster. Again, for those of us who have read it, yes she calls herself one and technically… well I don’t want to be specific here.

For me, this is a book about the coming of age of a young woman whom the author has chosen as not just someone who is his daughter at heart (as mentioned above) but who’s unassuming because she works at it; who lives in the shadows of her own fears and on the edge of society (literally and figuratively). The only person she truly can trust is her surrogate mother Tabitha, who has her own darkness to deal with as she races against the time terminal cancer has given her to prepare Eleanor for… well, you will have to read to see. But when her own childhood friend moves back to town, she now must face having having the responsibility as well as the joy of the  friendship again and all that it entails, including social circles.

Eleanor never feels safe. Not safe from the state, because of mother’s health and their dependence on state aid; not safe in school, in case her peers or teachers notice the otherness she knows and perceives a bit too much inside her; not safe to really be the teenager she is now. The themes throughout this book are so intermingled with ribbons of darkness and light I felt like a whirling dervish with all the emotions it evoked: all those feelings from growing up as an odd duck and my feelings now as an adult. The aspect of “monster” is not just one literally but metaphorically**. Many times, at least for me, to show just how non-monstrous the monster is… ( yes, say that 10 times fast!).

With each turn of the page (or flick of the finger) the story unfolds and shines a bit more light into the mystery. Just when we think we know what is going on, we are given more info to realize there is even more to it and we maybe wrong. If this was a mystery book, my review would be based on keeping me in the dark during my rating decision. I was approximately at 90% before I had a complete handle on just exactly what everything was, and even then, the end surprised me.

The themes were pretty focused and having to do with love on so many levels. Ones of balance, familial, passion, self-love, first love, and in the end, even sacrificial love. With the First Nation mythological aspects so gently and eloquently layered within and the fact it is a coming-of-age story with plans to grow with your young adult readers ages as a series, you would think there maybe a few problem areas to weave within, but this was not the case. As I have argued in the past, young adults who read aren’t stupid. They desire books who treat them with respect. They want not just need this type of book. Johnny Worthen blended the conventions and tropes of the paranormal, coming-of-age, mythological and created such a powerful message young adults crave and adults need reminding of, Eleanor, The Unseen, cannot help but be impactful.

I recommend Eleanor to anyone. Don’t stop at the first chapter; I promise it will make sense. Such a clean, tight, well balanced, beautiful read. Anyone who wants a book that makes them feel… everything, or just a book to keep them excited to turn each and every page need to add Eleanor to your “Must Read” list!


Setting as Character, a Review & a Recipe – Eleanor by @JohnnyWorthenELEANOR, The Unseen
by Johnny Worthen
Pages: 280
Published by Jolly Fish Press
on July 1, 2014
Genres: Paranormal, Shifter, Young Adult
Source & Buy Links: Publisher
Amazon • • Goodreads •
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.

I received this book from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

**At one point I was reminded of Grendel by John Gardner, who tells the story from the monsters point of view… I will leave it at that and let you ponder as you click pre-order over at Amazon!


“The plants thrived and gave the little family plenty of cherry tomato treats, which they munched like candy in front of the television. They ate succulent slabs of rich delicious fruit with a little salt and pepper like pancakes all summer long.”

Johnny Worthen. Eleanor-ARC (Kindle Locations 408-415).

Cherry Tomato Tarts (under six ingredient dishes)
Serves: 4-6 servings
  • ½ package of Puff Pastry
  • 1 garlic bulb, roasted (directions below for you roasted garlic virgins)
  • ½ tsp olive oil
  • 1½ C shredded fontina, divided 2:1
  • A nice big bundle of cherry tomatoes (I love mine straight off the vine, still warm from outside just like Eleanor does)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper (yes I am realizing this is a seventh but I am not counting salt and pepper as an ingredient).
  1. Cut a sheet of puff pastry in half (you want approximately 6x12 or 9x9 just it will be about that size.. I wing it usually, but then again I am a zen cabin dwelling chef).
  2. To roast garlic: cut off pointed end of garlic bulb; place garlic on a piece of aluminum foil, and drizzle with olive oil. Fold foil to sea and roast at 425° for 30 minutes; cool. Squeeze pulp from garlic cloves onto the pierced pastry dough
  3. Sprinkle 1 C fontina cheese over the garlic.
  4. Cut cherry tomatoes in half (after pinching their stems off) and let stand on folded paper towels sliced side down for 10 minutes.
  5. Flip up, brush lightly with olive oil (this is not in the measurements) and sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper (if you care too you can add thyme or basil in a small dash on top of the tomatoes too).
  6. Arrange tomatoes over shredded cheese. Sprinkle with remaining ½ Ccheese
  7. Bake at 425° for 30 minutes or until tart is lightly browned. You may need to it for a tad longer just so the bottom is completely cooked. Fontina is not a greasy cheese so this should not be soggy.
You can use pie crust but you would want to pre-cook the pie dough at least ½ through and your cooking time and temp will be 350 degrees and 45 minutes

*This recipe was adapted over time from something my mom sent to me from a Martha Stewart recipe back in 2002 or 2003. I no longer have that recipe and have changed it so much I can own this one all on my own!*

For those in the Salt Lake City area he will be at the Barnes and Noble Sugarhouse from Noon to 3PM. See scheduled info HERE!

Setting as Character, a Review & a Recipe - Eleanor by @JohnnyWorthen


  1. Eleanor certainly has me intrigued. Thank you for sharing with us today and the tomato tart – need I say oh my yum 🙂

    • Denise you totally should read this book and considering I know what you like to read I think you would. It is lovely!

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