After Clea Raymond’s father disappears while on a humanitarian mission, Clea’s photos begin to feature eerie, shadowy images of a strange and beautiful man—a man she has never seen before. When fate brings Clea and this man together, she is stunned by the immediate and powerful connection she feels with him. As they grow closer, they are drawn deep into the mystery behind her father’s disappearance, and they discover the centuries old truth behind their intense bond.
Hilary Duff adds yet another title to her multifaceted resume as she delves into YA writing with her debut novel, Elixir. As a fan of Duff since her Lizzie McQuire days, I had to take a read (I LOVED when I was in third grade, playing her songs every day.) I admit to being a bit hesitant, not sure what to expect as I never thought of her as a writer but a celebrity who spent more time with her career than writing tedious essays. I knew about the book when it was first reached bestseller lists, but I dismissed it as just her name selling the novel rather than her literary merit. Regardless, I am glad I delved into Elixir.
The plot sounds like something out of a Disney movie, but with darker undertones. Clea, the protagonist, is a teen freelance photographer blessed with financial and social status. Her father goes missing, and her mother submerges herself in work. Her happy family is broken, leaving Clea with many questions regarding her father’s disappearance. Clea doesn’t care too much about romance (but her best friend, Rayna lives for it) until she gets weird, romantic dreams with a mysterious man: the same man who appearances in her photographs. Then a photo assignment, sends her off to Rio, the place of her father’s disappearance. Clea, desperate for answers, hops on a plane immediately. She bumps into this mysterious man, Sage, find out he is her soulmate along with some dark secrets, and goes from suspecting him to hopelessly in love with him. They have sex in a car. He keeps his distance from her, she breaks down. Along the way she uncovers dark mysteries of her past and her father’s disappearance which are all tied to the coveted Elixir of Life. And her other best friend who is head of heels in love her, Ben, goes along for the ride too; but he ends up to be a harbinger of horrible events (It is clear we are supposed to dislike this poor guy throughout the novel.)
Immediately, I started to dissect the novel trying to separate Duff with her collaborator, Elise Allen.The words flow effortlessly through the page. I could tell Duff paid extra attention to her descriptions, unfortunately it was aimed more towards people than setting. Knowing her status as a celebrity and that she travels often, I was expecting vivid descriptions of Clea’s home in Connecticut, the beaches of Rio, and the city lights of Shibuya. However, to my disappointment, there was more description in the Swaronski crystal Hello Kitty mirror she buys in the mall than in whatever country she’s in.
I have to applaud the writing in the scene where Clea takes pictures of her room to check if the mystery man will appear. She goes through the pictures on her computer, to find him in the picture of her closet. Read just like a scene of a horror film; I swear a shudder went down my spine. You start to think Clea is an idiot when she trusts this creepy guy.
The adventure is there, Clea runs through a forest escaping from creepy guys. At times, it feels like I am thrown into cliche CSI scenes: enlarging pictures that magically turn high-res with zoom, decoding secret codes in a computer, and a password engraved on a watch. These scenes almost made me wince as they just sounded, for lack of a better word, lame. You start to wonder why is it all so easy and why it took less than a handful of pages to “solve” the “elaborate” puzzle her father created involving Shakespeare, a cribbage board, and his watch.
The story was captivating: a mystery, with a dash of paranormal, and a gallon of romance (love triangle alert!) thrown in for good measure. The sexual inferences didn’t do it for me, I had to check the age level to make sure this book was not inappropriate. I’ve read teen novels with much more graphic sex scenes, but for a novel aimed at 14 year olds I am starting to wonder if I was just too sheltered. Compared to Ellen Hopkin’s Identical, Elixir’s sexual references are mellow; but what bothered me is they just seemed to be sprinkled in there for the sake of it. The reader is already constantly being told that they are soulmates, we don’t need sex in the car to consummate it.
There are many points in the plot that just seems too convenient. Need to travel? No worries, Sage has a black American Express credit card, perfect for booking first class plane tickets. Clea’s mother clearly does not check her daughter’s credit card statements or wonder how her daughter flew home without buying a plane ticket. Need a password to the world’s most precious elixir? No problem, her father is forgetful and scribbles his passwords everywhere, leaving them in the most conspicuous places. Got an ugly 500-year old talking corpse in front of you? No problem, she commits suicide on her own.
However, even unlimited credit cards can’t contain all my unanswered questions which I hope will be answered in the sequel. Where did that orchid necklace come from? If Clea is such a wonderful, “professional” photographer, why does she never carry extra lens, light modifiers, filters, model permission slips, or at least a tripod? and Why is Sage in all her pictures just because he is her soulmate? Do soulmates normally appear in pictures of your closet? If Sage has been playing for cribbage for centuries is dead even with Ben and Clea, does it mean the game is too easy, Sage isn’t very smart, or Ben and Clea have past memories of playing the game? Why are those vials empty, do someone drink them and felt compelled to rebury them? What in the world is a small door along with a hidden chamber doing in the Shibuya 109 building, who built it? Why is there a store called The Little Door anyway? The Dark Lady is surprisingly nice, has has weird supernatural powers? Can we just kill Ben?
I just picked up its sequel, Devoted, today; despite being awkward at parts, it was an addicting read with s good pace, and intriguing plot. I expect a better sequel from Devoted (and I just want closure.) While the plot seems to be full of holes, Duff has definite storytelling potential Hilary Duff, I think you just made a fan out of me…again.
On a slightly related note, there’s a line which reads “the odds are not in his favor.” RANDOM THE HUNGER GAMES SPAZZ MOMENT