Celeste: The Unseen, Book 2
Jollyfish Press, 2015
Trade paperback, 376 pp., $14.99; eBook, $8.99
Reviewed by Michael R. Collings
In Johnny Worthen’s excellent sequel to Eleanor: The Unseen, Book 1, Eleanor Anders must face the difficult, painful, at times torturous task of growing up. In this she does not differ from other sixteen-year-old girls, except, of course, for the small detail that Eleanor is not a sixteen-year-old girl. She is something entirely different.
Celeste: The Unseen, Book 2 continues Eleanor’s struggles to find her identity in the small Wyoming town of Jamesford following her mother’s death and the calamities that followed. To do this, she must expand herself, include more people into her life on more levels—and with greater peril—than ever before. As she does so, she must also reveal fragments of her history and her nature, sometimes willingly and sometimes by force.
Above all, however, she must remember and remain true to the mantra that has guided her life since before Eleanor began: she must not be seen.
This single task presents greater and greater challenges as Eleanor’s life changes around her. Old enemies suddenly become friendlier…and, ultimately, friends. David Venn’s role in her life grows more complex than ever, until he represents everything Eleanor passionately wants yet knows that she cannot have. The dynamics of her relationship with her foster-family alter fundamentally when David’s father returns from the military and appoints himself her protector, against her clear wishes. In spite of her need for isolation and anonymity, Eleanor finds herself proclaimed a long-lost daughter by some; Satan incarnate, by a rabidly radical religious cult; a saint or an angel, by those who have witnessed even a fraction of her abilities; a lab experiment to be controlled and examined, by the overbearing forces of science insane with its own power; and a hero to the entire town.
All entirely against her will.
As did Eleanor, Celeste revolves around several key themes: adolescence and its inherent traps and pitfalls; adolescents’ need to develop independence and individuality in the face of pressures toward uniformity and socialization; the powers—and the dangers—of bigotry and various -isms, whether in the service of religion, society, science, or any other abstraction; the consequences of history and heritage and the ways they form, deform, twist, and inevitably shape personality and actions. Embedded within all of these, and explained for the first time, are the reasons for Eleanor’s frantic need to remain unseen…and the revelation tells as much about the world in which she lives as it does about who and what she is.
In Celeste, Eleanor Anders must grow in unexpected ways. In writing Celeste, Worthen demonstrates that he too has grown, as an author, as a master and manipulator (a good word in this context, by the way) of his narrative, as an observer of humanity in all of its states. The novel is more complex than Eleanor, incorporating as it must more problems for Eleanor and those around her. He handles the increased difficulty well; my only quibble with the story comes in the second half, where several dialogues seem to move more slowly or continue longer than they might.
But this minor point aside, throughout the novel, Worthen stimulates readers’ interest, starting with a crisis in Eleanor’s life; moving from that crisis and its resolution to its shattering consequences; placing Eleanor in progressively more dangerous situations that cogently lead from one to the other; and noting always that her increasing power and awareness are themselves among her greatest enemies. At the end, he provides a satisfying conclusion to that which has gone before and an intriguing introduction to the next segment in the story: David.