“My Year with Eleanor” by Noelle Hancock

Title: My Year with Eleanor
Author: Noelle Hancock
ISBN: 9780061875038
Pages: 304
Release date: June 2011
Publisher: Ecco
Genre: Memoir
Format: ARC (Hardcover)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Possible Theme Song: “Afraid of Everyone” by The National
Kinda like: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
Very different from: Wanderlust by Elisabeth Eaves

Noelle Hancock was on vacation in Aruba when she received the phone call that changed her life.

Her coworker at the website where Hancock pulled nearly six figures as an entertainment blogger was on the other line, and bursting with bad news: The website was being shut down and Hancock was laid off.

Noelle applies for every job she can find, but the job market in March 2008 was… difficult. Faced with an uncertain and terrifying future, Noelle comes across a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt:

Do one thing every day that scares you.

The quote sticks with her, and she begins thinking about the ways that fear and anxiety have begun to hold her back. She has an epiphany: “Maybe to find out what I did want to do, I first had to do the things I didn’t want to do.”

She vows to spend the next year facing her fears, and so begins her so-called “Year of Fear.”

From shark cage diving to skydiving, from volunteering in a hospital to working in a funeral home, from flying a fighter plane to ascending Mount Kilimanjaro, Noelle takes on her biggest fears. Along the way, she discovers that some of the biggest challenges in her life come from within, so she also begins addressing her anxiety, heavy dependence on sleeping pills, and insecurity in her relationship with her boyfriend.

She discovers “that, in taking on tangible challenges, I’d grown into someone who could handle the intangibles. That life was not about attaining; it was about letting go.”

It helps that she has great friends who give good advice. Becca, whom Noelle befriends when she volunteers at a nearby hospital, coaches her on her Kilimanjaro hike by reminding her, “Just remember, you can always take another step.” And Jessica, a longtime (and hilarious) friend, is surprisingly insightful about relationships and perfectionism:

“In New York, we can have the best of everything. It’s a city with limitless options. So we get accustomed to thinking that there’s always something better out there, because there usually is: a better apartment, a better job, a better meal at a better restaurant around the corner. We’re never satisfied. This city trains us to worry about the possibility of something better, so we’re unable to recognize when we actually have The One.”

The mark of a good story is the ability to draw the reader in even if she doesn’t identify with the main character or her struggles. Her fears are different from mine–not wearing makeup and going camping for a week sound lovely to me–but her story taught me a valuable lesson.

Noelle faces fears from her childhood–physical fears of heights and falling, of sharks and dying. But she also grapples with the emotional fears she has developed as an adult: fears of being rejected and ridiculed, of not being perfect and not being enough. Her persistence in the face of the obstacles in her life is realistic and inspiring, and her honesty is endearing.

While at the beginning, Noelle seems a little shallow—she makes nearly six figures as blogger??—she visibly transforms over the course of the year. After climbing Kilimanjaro, she comments:

“I thought I’d feel extremely proud of myself if I made it to the top. Instead, I felt humbled. . . . It was a reminder that in my life–just like on the mountain–I’d been incredibly lucky.”

In addition to recounting her adventures, Noelle peppers in the extensive research she did on fear, hiking, death, and public speaking. I was fascinated to learn than the adrenaline you experience during fight-or-flight reroutes the blood to your stomach, interrupting your digestion and causing diarrhea.

I learned just enough about Eleanor Roosevelt to pique my interest; I’ll be adding her books to my TBR list. Despite her faults, she seems endlessly wise and observant:

“We are constantly advancing, like explorers, into the unknown, which makes life an adventure all the way. How interminable and dull that journey would be if it were on a straight road over a flat plain, if we could see ahead the whole distance, without surprises, without the salt of the unexpected, without challenge.”

My Year with Eleanor is humorous, edgy, and very well-written. I recommend it to anyone who has ever struggled to overcome a fear or to re-discover the warrior within the worrier.

Quote of Note:

While walking a labyrinth, you could think you were going one direction, only to find out you were going the opposite way. Unlike a maze, there were no dead ends, just as there were no true dead ends in life–just opportunities to turn things around.

Don’t just take my word for it! Buy My Year with Eleanor for yourself from an independent bookstore. Each sale from this link helps support Melody & Words.

And check out what other reviewers on the tour have been saying:

July 11: Book Reviews by Molly
July 12: Bibliosue
July 13: 2 Kids and Tired Book Reviews
July 19: Scandalous Women
July 20: Unabridged Chick
July 25: One Book Shy
August 2: “That’s Swell!”
August 3: The Book Chick
August 4: Cozy Little House
August 10: Kahakai Kitchen
August 11: Stephanie’s Written Word

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