The Selective Collective reads THE ELEMENTALS by FRANCESCA LIA BLOCK
Intro to The Selective Collective
You may know us as the ladies behind Casting Call, but I am so excited to say that Sandie and Diana (Teen Lit Rocks), Tee (YA Crush), Dixie and Maggie (Gone Pecan), Candice (The Grown Up YA), and I have officially formed a book club called The Selective Collective. Each month we’ll bring you one or two new releases or upcoming books to read, review, and discuss, exclusively in the genres of YA and New Adult. Each blog will host a specific feature to discuss the book whether by questions, review, discussion, etc., and the blog to host each feature will flip every book so we all get a chance to explore these amazing reads in different ways.
Without further ado, let’s jump into our very first book for The Selective Collective, and that was The Elementals by Francesca Lia Block (provided to us by the publisher, St. Martin’s Press exclusively for the use of our book club).
Check out Goodreads for a full synopsis and more information.
The Elusive Genre of New Adult
When we first received The Elementals for our October read, I was expecting more of a young adult novel based on the Goodreads description, specifically when it refers to The Elementals as a coming-of-age story. The further I got into the book, the more I realized how it was quite far from young adult! I’m happy to say that this is one of those elusive New Adult titles I’ve been craving ever since my college days.
Toto, We’re Not In High School Anymore…
The Elementals tells us the story of Ariel, a freshman at Berkeley, who’s struggling to cope with the new revelation of her mother’s breast cancer and the unresolved case of her best friend Jeni’s disappearance a year prior to her arrival at college. For the first time ever, she is truly on her own. Ariel had a really close relationship with her family and her that family dynamic has totally been turned upside down with the introduction of cancer into the mix. Her parents try to shield her from the horrible experiences that her mother is withstanding and Ariel also does her best to avoid any awkward or uncomfortable topics. Ariel is also now completely alone in the fact that her best friend Jeni was her other half. From childhood throughout high school, they were inseparable and did everything together, even down to applying to the same college and living together there. With these two giant rifts in her life and the separation from the home she’s always known, Ariel takes a really big step to becoming independent at the most unstable point in her life.
The New Adult genre is quite different from Young Adult in the fact that our main characters are now experiencing life in a totally different way – they’re completely independent for the first time in their lives and must now face multitudes of responsibilities, many of which can be overwhelming. I think Francesca Lia Block did a great job of having the reading experience all of these brand-new changes through Ariel. I really felt a sense of how alone she must have felt being in a strange place, living with a stranger who is quite the opposite, as well as taking more difficult classes and managing her own extra-curriculars and actively building social connections. We’re separated from the high school environment where we had friends in every class, most of which were probably kids we went to school with all of our lives, as well as food, shelter, and money being provided by dear old Mom and Dad. We see all of the above in Ariel’s story – she’s lost her family connection by moving out, and she’s also lost that familiar connection with the absence of Jeni in her life. Jeni really was her rock, the one person she could count on as a social support, and it almost seems like with this huge hole in her life, Ariel’s not quite sure how to create healthy relationships. It also seems a lot harder for her to meet people in college when she really has to go out of her way to talk to people and make real connections.
Even if a New Adult novel doesn’t necessarily focus on the college experience, the characters are reaching the age when it’s time to leave the house and focus on building a life for themselves. They now have the freedom to go out and pursue new experiences, many of which they couldn’t do under their parents roofs.
Not Suitable for Younger Audiences
College and/or moving out of the home does force a lot of responsibility, but it also allows for quite a bit of freedoms, many of which Ariel chooses to pursue throughout The Elementals, one of which is exploring her sexuality for the first time in her life. This seems to be a REALLY big difference between New Adult and Young Adult with the specific example of The Elementals in mind. We do often see sexual encounters and teen relationships developing in Young Adult novels, but I think a big difference we see here is the detail in which the relationships are explored. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying it’s anything like a romance novel – but the descriptions and details of the sexual side of the characters are much more explicit and are also taken to different and darker places. Throughout The Elementals, we deal with abuse, drug influences, hazing, bullying, and passion all intertwining with sexual elements. That’s not to say we don’t see any of these topics in Young Adult literature, but they are not discussed as in depth or are used so prominently as themes throughout the book. Sex is definitely a major theme in this book and I would also say that it’s definitely geared towards more maturer audiences.
On a smaller level, we see a large selection of other freedoms that Ariel experiences as well: Freedom to leave her home as she pleases – or on the flip side, to choose not to come home and to stay with John, Tania, and Perry. She has the ability to dabble with alcohol and drugs, although on a minor level of wine and marijuana use with her friends. We do also see these elements in some young adult novels, but I think the difference from that and New Adult is that even a few years makes a difference: I feel that readers, in general, are a lot more receptive to all of these kinds of experimentations for a teenager transitioning into adulthood and figuring out their own choices at 18/19/20 whereas the same situations at 15/16/17 may come off as intense, inappropriate, or damaging.
Truly a Coming of Age Tale
I really do feel like The Elementals could only be described as a New Adult book. Even though I was a bit thrown off by the fact that it was described as a “coming of age” tale – something I usually attribute to the young adult age range – I’ve really started to change my mind of what “coming of age” really entails. After reading The Elementals and really connecting this with my own personal experiences, I couldn’t agree more that when I was a “new adult”, those were the times I started to change the most. Away from home, making my own money, truly making my own decisions without parental influence, taking steps to make a real future for myself – That’s really the time I started make a lot of changes towards the person I am today.
So what do you think? How are you enjoying the development of the New Adult genre? What do you think are the defining elements between Young Adult and New Adult?
And please don’t forget to check out the features from the other ladies in The Selective Collective! We each have a post to feature a different side of The Elementals so please go visit their take on the book as well!
Review: The Elementals – Tee @ YA Crush
Author Q &A + Giveaway: Francesca Lia Block – Candice @ The Grown-Up YA
Casting Call: Who would you cast in The Elementals? – Diana & Sandie @ Teen Lit Rocks
General Discussion/Book Club Questions – Dixie & Maggie @ Gone Pecan