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John, Antony. Elemental.

4Q * 4P * J * S John, Antony. Elemental. Dial/Penguin, 2012. 320p. $17.99. 978-0-8037-3682-5.

In the future, a rat-borne plague has rendered the American mainland unlivable, so sixteen-year-old Thorn's family lives in a tiny colony on Hatteras Island. Everyone save Thorn has a magic-like "elemental" gift that helps the colony, so Thorn's lack makes him worth "nothing." Only his father will even touch him, and doubtless his dreams of the lovely Rose and iconoclastic Mice will end in heartbreak. Then pirates come while all the teens are sheltering from a hurricane in nearby Roanoke, in a ruined town of forbidden preplague wonders. When the teens discover that the pirates have captured the adults and are coming for them--led by Captain Dare--they know they must act. As they strive to rescue their parents and themselves, the teens begin to uncover the secrets of Roanoke, their families' pasts, and themselves.

Shades of the lost colony of Roanoke thread through this well-constructed and suspenseful dystopia, where secrets pile on secrets like dune sand--so many secrets that some readers may grow frustrated by the author's parsimonious explanations. The explanations are so incomplete that much remains unknown by the cliff-hanger ending, so a sequel deafly lies in the future. All the characters, however, are well-drawn and idiosyncratic--Thorn is particularly sympathetic--making the human story as compelling as the enigmas of Roanoke and the Hatteras colonists. The descriptions of the physical world are lush and evocative as well. Recommend this to students who prefer their dystopias more enigmatic than desperate, though still with some violence.--Rebecca Moore.

John paints a descriptive picture, allowing readers to envision Skeleton Island (Roanoke), the pirates, and their ships. He also allows Mice, Thom, and Rose to grow, both together and individually, with Mice exploring the islands and Thom learning to keep his own secrets. In addition, John uses the adult Guardians to add questions and secrets to the islands, keeping readers in a state of confusion and curiosity. Elemental will appeal to teen mystery readers. 5Q, 5P.--Tapan Srivastava, Teen Reviewer.

This story starts out with the opposite premise of usual fantasy books--the main character's superpower is his lack of one. This creates an unexpectedly emotional story of survival and self-discovery. Although a little too fast-paced and sometimes overly dramatic, the book offers a surprisingly accurate portrayal of human emotions. Fantasy readers who prefer more character development and fewer battle scenes will enjoy it. Elemental is best for middle schoolers with short attention spans. 4Q, 4P.--Alisa Billig, Teen Reviewer.

4Q Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses.

4P Broad general or genre YA appeal.

J Junior High (defined as grades 7-9).

S Senior High (defined as grades 10-12).

5Q Hard to imagine it being better written.

5P Every YA (who reads) was dying to read it yesterday.

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Author:Moore, Rebecca; Srivastava, Tapan; Billig, Alisa
Publication:Voice of Youth Advocates
Article Type:Book review
Date:Aug 1, 2012
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