Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Elementals by Saundra Mitchell

The Elementals by Saundra Mitchell

Kate Witherspoon has lived a bohemian life with her artist parents. In 1917, the new art form of the motion picture is changing entertainment—and Kate is determined to become a director.

Meanwhile, midwestern farm boy Julian Birch has inherited the wanderlust that fueled his parents’ adventures. A childhood bout with polio has left him crippled, but he refuses to let his disability define him.

Strangers driven by a shared vision, Kate and Julian set out separately for Los Angeles, the city of dreams. There, they each struggle to find their independence. When they finally meet, the teenage runaways realize their true magical legacy: the ability to triumph over death, and over time. But as their powerful parents before them learned, all magic comes with a price. (blurb from Goodreads)

Ratings: PG-13, 4 stars
Trigger warnings: homophobia, ableism

I read this entire novel without realizing that it was the final book in a series. Oops. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel like I was missing anything except perhaps a little bit of background information about Kate and Julian’s parents. It’s my understanding that The Elementals is a little bit more of a companion novel than the first two books in the trilogy, as it deals with the children of the protagonists of the first two books. I was a little confused about the motivation of the main antagonist, but it didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the novel.

*SPOILER ALERT* Before reading this book, I’d heard quite a bit of buzz about this book because Kate is bisexual and it’s a period book, which is so rarely done, especially in YA fiction. I found this buzz to be a little...misleading. Kate never fully articulates her feelings towards the woman she is assumed to be in love with, and while I didn’t expect to actually see the word “bisexual” in a text set in 1917, I had hoped for more specific acknowledgement of her feelings. However, I do still appreciate the inclusion of potential bisexuality, and I thought what little was there to be appropriately handled. *END SPOILER*

In general, I really enjoyed the world building in this novel. I thought the period details were really well done, and the magic system was incredibly intuitive. I never questioned it, which is even more impressive considering that this is the final book in a trilogy. I appreciated that the book was more focused on introspective and character relationships than action, despite the magic and menacing antagonist. Even the ending, which could have been very action-y, played out almost gently.

And speaking of the ending, I am speechless. I’ll admit it: I bawled like a baby. I have a weird feeling about the whole thing. I’m not happy about the ending, per se, but I think it’s very fitting and was very satisfying. Prepare yourself for the ending.

In general, I really enjoyed this book, and I recommend it without reservation. As you might expect from a book set in 1917, some characters exhibit homophobia and ableism, but these instances are always framed negatively. I think fans of the Gemma Doyle trilogy might be particularly interested in The Elementals.

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