Monday, September 16, 2013

The Elementals by Francesca Lia Block

For many, starting college is an exciting new prospect. For Ariel, it's bittersweet. She and her best friend Jeni had planned to go to Berkeley together. But Jeni is gone, vanished almost without a trace while on a school trip to the campus. And now Ariel's mother is sick, diagnosed with breast cancer and set to undergo surgery and treatment once Ariel is safely off to school. Ariel spends much of her spare time at Berkeley looking for answers in Jeni's disappearance, combing the campus and the surrounding area passing out flyers and asking questions. Then she meets John Graves and his roommates, Tania and Perry. Everything about the three friends captivates Ariel: their lifestyle, their attitudes, the way they embrace life... At first they are a distraction from her obsession with Jeni's fate but as Ariel becomes more a part of their world her life begins to change in unimaginable ways. 

The Elementals is Francesca Lia Block's latest adult release as well as my own introduction to her work. It's a strange read in a lot of ways, described as being a coming-of-age tale with a touch of magical realism, which is actually quite appropriate. Not having read Block before, I was going to describe her style as lyrical but apparently that's used quite often. I'll go one more and say her writing is mesmerizing, entrancing, or any other number of synonyms along that line: I found myself quite unable to set the book down until I got to the end. I needed to see Ariel's story through and find out what was going to happen. There were admittedly times where I was confused or unsure where the story was going and how it would all tie up in the end. I wondered if there would be questions left unanswered, threads just dangling in the wind. Fortunately this is not the case. Everything does come together more or less by the turn of the final page.

Ariel goes through so much more than the general setting off on her own and transitioning to college: she's lost her best friend and she's facing the possibility of losing her mother as well. In fact, for all intents and purposes she has lost her parents to cancer already. Her mother and father are consumed by overcoming it and getting Ariel's mother back to health, leaving Ariel vulnerable and alone.

The blend of elements here works so well it's almost scary. As I mentioned above, it's a coming-of-age tale with a mix of magical realism but it's also a mystery and that magical realism borders on fantasy at it's most striking moments. Fairy tales and folk stories become a bit of a webbing wrapped around the story as a whole and providing an interesting context for a lot of the things that happen in the book. Overall it really is a wonderfully weird and touching book.

The Elementals is out in paperback tomorrow. Block also has a new YA title out now, Love in the Time of Global Warming, and a forthcoming adult title, Beyond the Pale Motel, due out next.

Rating: 4/5

As an afterthought, I feel I should add that we are faring well here. Boulder is just 15 miles away but luckily we had no flooding in our area at all. Friends are all ok as well though some are bailing out flooded basements as a result of the deluge.

1 comment:

Becky LeJeune said...

Hey, everyone. I'd mistakenly noted that this was Block's first adult novel. It is not - I've fixed the post, but wanted to note it here as well.