Title: The Elementals
Author: Francesca Lia Block
Release Date: October 16, 2012
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
Ariel Silverman has just started college at Berkeley, but there are things that set her apart from the rest of the freshmen at her school. First of all, her mother is fighting cancer back home, and things don’t look good. But even more than that, Ariel wasn’t supposed to be alone at Berkeley. Her best friend Jeni and she had always planned to attend college together, but when Jeni disappeared while doing a summer program in Berkeley, everything changed. Now, Ariel must not only adjust to life at Berkeley and find her way, but also is determined to find out the truth behind Jeni’s disappearance.
The Elementals is many different things rolled up into one package. First, there’s the coming-of-age story. It’s Ariel’s first year at college, and Block does a great job describing the awkwardness of that time period. Wondering whether you’ll find a place to fit in, navigating classes and roommates—it’s captured beautifully in this novel. Readers will be able to sense Ariel’s discomfort, taste her nervousness; Block’s descriptions are wonderfully written and stretch deep into Ariel’s thoughts.
But this is more than just a coming-of-age novel, a simple story set at college. Jeni’s disappearance adds a whole different flavor to The Elementals. Instead of spending her time making friends or socializing, Ariel spends her evenings and weekends searching for clues about what might have happened to Jeni. Her loyalty is touching, but it’s also so sad; the reader can see how much Jeni’s disappearance has affected Ariel, has changed her and made her grow up all too quickly.
It isn’t until Ariel falls in with an older, mysterious crowd that she begins to settle down and enjoy her college life in The Elementals, but even this isn’t what it seems. Block describes these new friends of Ariel’s in an almost ethereal nature. It’s clear that there’s something strange going on beneath the surface, that Ariel is falling in with something she doesn’t understand. While Jeni’s disappearance provides the mystery of the novel, it’s Ariel’s new friends that really provide the opportunity for great atmosphere, which Block takes advantage of.
In the end, The Elementals is a quiet novel; if you’re looking for something earth-shattering, this isn’t the book for you. But if you’re looking for a novel that’s a bit off the beaten path, that revels in its own strangeness, this might be a good choice. Block’s writing is great, and if you can suspend some disbelief as to where the plot threads end up going, you’ll enjoy Block’s adult debut novel.