Book Review: The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson
From the critically acclaimed author of We Are the Ants and At the Edge of the Universe comes a mind-bending, riveting novel about a teen who was born to a virgin mother and realizes she has the power to heal—but that power comes at a huge cost.
Sixteen-year-old Elena Mendoza is the product of a virgin birth.
This can be scientifically explained (it’s called parthenogenesis), but what can’t be explained is how Elena is able to heal Freddie, the girl she’s had a crush on for years, from a gunshot wound in a Starbucks parking lot. Or why the boy who shot Freddie, David Combs, disappeared from the same parking lot minutes later after getting sucked up into the clouds. What also can’t be explained are the talking girl on the front of a tampon box, or the reasons that David Combs shot Freddie in the first place.
As more unbelievable things occur, and Elena continues to perform miracles, the only remaining explanation is the least logical of all—that the world is actually coming to an end, and Elena is possibly the only one who can do something about it.
Fact: I really enjoy Hutchinson’s books. You can read my reviews of At the Edge of the Universe, We Are the Ants, Violent Ends, The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley, and Feral Youth to see why. I love his books because they so often deal with mental health and loss and large, weird science fiction ideas about worlds ending.
Florida teenager Elena Mendoza has always been unique. She’s the first and only documented case resulting from human parthenogenesis. Being virgin-born has always made her stand out, but that’s nothing compared to the attention she receives when it turns out she can perform healing miracles. When she witnesses Freddie, the girl she has a crush on get shot, the mermaid from the Starbucks logo tells Elena to heal Freddie. Healing Freddie also appears to rapture the shooter, who disappears in a beam of light. It’s all rather shocking and confusing to Elena, who has always heard voices from inanimate objects, but never knew she could do things like heal others. Her mother suggests she keep her down after this, act like doesn’t know what happened and that she can’t perform miracles. But how do you just forget what you were able to do and move on?
After Elena confirms she really can heal people (unsurprisingly, it’s a little hard for her to just accept what happened), things grow far more complicated than she could have anticipated. The voices (coming from such places as a girl on a tampon box, a My Little Pony, a skeleton, and more) tell her she needs to heal as many people as possible. And on the surface, that seems like a good idea. But for every healing she does, people are raptured—and not just in some 1:1 ration; literally hundreds of people could go missing for each healing. Suddenly, Elena has BIG questions to grapple with. Can she help someone right in front of her knowing others will disappear to an unknown place? Is she being used? Do things happen for a reason or do they just happen? Does nothing matter? Does anything matter? Does EVERYTHING matter? How are things connected? Are people even worth saving (that question will sound familiar to fans of Hutchinson)? Does healing people fundamentally change them? Why should you decide who or what matters? It’s heavy philosophical stuff, which readers of Hutchinson will have come to expect.
As always, Hutchinson populates his story with a diverse group of characters. Elena is Cuban American and bisexual. Her best friend, Fadil, is Mulim and possibly aromatic and/or asexual (he’s still figuring it out). The big picture themes include mental health/suicidal ideation (and actual suicide), bullying, identity, supportive relationships, and how your choices change you and the world around you. Hutchinson superfans will be thrilled to see cameos of characters from his previous books. This look at making impossible choices and handling moral conflict is already one of my favorites for 2018 (and, as of writing this, I’m still back here in 2017). Riveting, thoughtful, weird, brilliant, provocative, and heavy—just what I have come to expect from Hutchinson.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 02/06/2018
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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