The Elementals by Francesca Lia Block

Elementals

Ariel Silverman’s best friend disappeared while visiting the college they meant to attend together.  Ariel is still shaken by this loss when she learns that her mother has breast cancer.  She begins her first year at college in a haze — she’s completely disconnected from everyone, including herself.  Clinging to memories of happier days, Ariel is determined to find out what happened to Jeni.  While handing out flyers she encounters some peculiar street people who seem oddly interested in her.

While the street people seem intrigued by her, her fellow freshmen seem intent on either dismissing her or taunting her.  Things change when she meets grad students John, Tania, and Perry.  They are beautiful, mysterious, and seductive.  For the first time since her world fell apart, she’s interested in something other than her desire to find out what happened to Jeni.  Her new friends are eclectic — their clothes tend to be elegant but frayed, as does the house they share.  The food and drink they serve reawakens her appetite — but only for what’s on their table — she has to struggle to eat anything else.

This is a surreal coming of age story — the tone is ominous from beginning to end.  Block’s writing is richly atmospheric.  I loved the otherworldly strangeness of several of the characters.  Are they fae?  Are they something else?  Why is Ariel so drawn to them — and why are they so drawn to her?

The strangeness, the mystery is done very well.  The normal part of the story was a little jarring for me — I never understood the reason why her dormmates chose to torment her in the way that they did.  I’m not even sure if they were responsible for the pranks — John entered her room to fill it with flowers, maybe he or his roommates placed the other items in there as well, to make her hate the dorm enough to move in with them.  Whomever was responsible, it seems evident that there’s a theme at play here but I’m not entirely certain what Block means for us to draw from it.

The romance is reminiscent of Edward and Bella but this is definitely not a YA novel.  There are no “vegetarian” vampires but there is plenty of sex, drugs, and ritual.  Bohemian occult chic.

Overall, a mostly compelling read.  I did lose my patience about halfway through but the story wouldn’t let me stop reading — I loved the writing but I was frustrated by the agonizingly slow pace.

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