The Elementals by Francesca Lia Block (in her adult fiction debut) weaves a compulsively readable, gothic-tinged mystery with a coming of age story.
From Goodreads: From a star YA author Francesca Lia Block—an adult novel about a student, haunted by the disappearance of a friend, who must face the truth.
The Elementals is on one level an intriguing coming-of-age novel about a young woman, Ariel Silverman, facing the challenges of her first years away at college in Berkeley, California, while her mother battles cancer at home in Los Angeles. But the book takes on deeper, stranger meanings when we realize that Ariel is haunted by the disappearance of her best friend, Jeni, who vanished without a trace a few years before, closing Ariel’s heart and changing her forever. Ariel wonders if she will ever be fully alive, until she meets three mysterious, beautiful and seductive young people living in a strange old house in the Berkeley hills. Through them Ariel will unravel the mystery of her best friend’s disappearance and face a chilling choice.
College can be quite the transition for the average teenager. For Ariel, it brings more turmoil to her already burdened life. Ariel is attending college at the same school her best friend Jeni disappeared from. She is hoping to find closure, or at least some clues, to help bring her peace. Instead, college life feels openly hostile to her and she finds she has nowhere to turn. Until she meets three mysterious grad students… As she is drawn into their world, she finds parts of herself previously undiscovered and begins to catch glimpses of other worlds as magic seeps into her life.
The story is primarily told over a span of three years (freshman, sophomore, and junior year). Over the course of the story, Ariel does begin to discover aspects of her life that she never knew existed and she begins to uncover clues to her best friend’s disappearance. This is a beautifully written novel; it’s lush, gothic, poetic – filled with beautiful imagery. This is the novel’s strength. The novel’s weakness, and my primary complaint, is that the stories at times remained too disparate. Between Jeni’s disappearance, her mother’s cancer, her increasing involvement with the graduate students (especially John), the stories remained a little disconnected. However, the disconnect is not pronounced enough to overly detract from the story. It is ultimately a beautifully written, lushly imagined, mysterious coming of age story (the novel defies categorization, it’s part mystery, thriller, paranormal, contemporary, gothic coming of age story filled with bits of magical realism). If this sounds like something you would enjoy, don’t hesitate to read The Elementals, you won’t be disappointed. Bottom line 4/5.
Given the book is rather atmospheric, I thought a decadent dessert would be in order: Pumpkin Brownies with Chocolate Ganache. They are obscenely delicious.