November 1, 2012

Review: The Elementals

The Elementals By Francesca Lia Block
Available now from St. Martin's Press
Review copy

Francesca Lia Block's style is as beautiful as ever, dreamy and almost more poetry than prose.   It can lean toward the purple, but I think it works with her lush stories wherein fairytales clash with harsh reality.  In THE ELEMENTALS, college freshman Ariel Silverman searches for her best friend Jeni, who went missing on a trip to Berkeley.  While searching, she falls in love.

THE ELEMENTALS may be published as an adult novel, but it reads very similarly to Block's YA novels.  Although, since it covers Ariel's first three years at college, it fits nicely into that new category of YA-style novels aimed at twentysomethings.  ("New adult," but that name is terrible.)  The sex is slightly more explicit than Block's YA novels, but she's never been an author to shy away from sexiness.  Her style revels in the sensual.

The various threads of THE ELEMENTALS don't always fit together neatly.  There's the search for Jeni, in which Ariel does not prove to be a master detective.  She's a teen looking for any answer in her grief.  There's her mother's cancer, which she ignores for much of the first year the novel covers.  There's her classwork and attempts to interact with her classmates which mostly fade away once she meets John Graves.  Ariel falls very deeply into John Graves, along with his strange roommates Tania and Perry.  Each element is important to Ariel's growth, but the novel felt episodic.

However, it's a beautifully told story.  I thought the person who took Jeni was pretty obvious, although others might not - there were several red herrings.  But the book is about Ariel's journey, not whodunit.  Block's magical realism is more intriguing than ever, as there's a sense that nothing magical at all is happening in THE ELEMENTALS.  Instead of this being a setting where some of the rules of are world simply don't exist, it feels like there is an explanation in line with our world.  It's a trick I haven't seen Block pull before.

I devoured THE ELEMENTALS in a single sitting.  It's a book that moves between lovely and creepy without blinking an eye.  It's cathartic, to see Ariel overcome her depression and grief, ready to make a future for herself.  When she enters Berkeley, she mostly attends the college in order to find out what happened to Jeni.  By the end, she's there for herself.  It's a fantastic story with an ending full of love and hope.


  1. This is a beautiful review! I have definitely wanted to read Block's books for the longest time. Her writing just sounds absolutely fabulous. Magical realism? Dang, that's pure AWESOME. I think the mystery sounds like a good touch as well. Again, great review! <3

    1. Thank you! Block's writing will either work for you or not - she's very polarizing. But I think when she's on she's just fabulous. And the mystery does give a nice structure to the book, which is something her stories sometimes lack.

  2. What a beautifully written review. This sounds like a lovely book -- I'm adding it to my list.

    1. Thanks! I'm glad I could convince you to give it a chance.


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