Author, Kate Pentecost
by Jarad Johnson
Before I even start this review, there’s something I need to get off my chest. In recent years, I’ve sort of drifted away from YA fiction. I found many books had the same repetitive (and frankly simplistic) themes. To be honest, I never would have classified myself as a YA fanatic. It was something I read, sure, but it wasn’t the only thing I read. I haven’t found many things in that genre that I found rave-worthy over the years; usually, I’m disappointed by it. I’m especially tired of high school-based books and coming of age novels. High school is not that exciting; get over it! And when it is exciting…it’s never a good thing. I wish some of these teenagers would quit finding themselves and go find a textbook and do their homework! Also…get off my lawn. Even worse are the times when I see reviews of a book that describe it as powerful or, “the voice of a generation” (side note: that one always gets me. How presumptuous!). Oftentimes I find myself wondering if I read the same book that they reviewer did. End grumpy old man rant. On with the review.
This book is called Elysium Girls. It has a remarkably interesting premise, point one in its favor! Basically, the Goddess (who, instead of the masculine god, is the supreme being of the universe)has two daughters, named Life and Death. These beings have placed a bet on a small town in rural America during the 1930’s. The town itself is isolated from the rest of humanity and placed in the middle of the desert. The bet is that if, in ten years’ time, the townspeople can collect and store enough harvest, the Life wins the game, and they survive and rejoin the world. If they don’t, then Death wins. If you’re familiar with Greek myths you’ll see a resemblance; the gods are cruel and capricious, and they toy with humanity for their own amusement.
Also, while we’re on the subject of Greek mythology, the trinity of the two daughters and the Supreme mother goddesses is, I think, a play on the Triple Goddess, who, if you don’t know, is a figure represented through many cultures and mythologies (and who is also a prominent figure in many pagan religions today). She symbolizes the three phases of a woman’s life (it can also apply to men, but it’s usually women), the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone. Crone is usually something that we associate negatively, but in this case, it just means an elderly woman. I think it’s an interesting choice to make them three separate entities. Like making the highest deity in the universe female, it sets up a world in which there is no possibility of the same old story. (Of course, it’s important that we remember that our society’s ideal of male superiority is not universal, so as a bonus it will drive some less flexible religious people mad, and a capricious part of me really appreciates that. Maybe my old man rant wasn’t quite over.)
This is a very female driven novel but the choice is smoothly integrated, a real foundation of this story. It doesn’t feel forced at all, and the whole novel really flows very well. The main character is female, the goddesses are female, the leader of the town is a female witch (yes, there be witches here), and there are lesbian relationships as well. It’s a very modern book in that sense, showcasing the times we live in now, rather than the actual times of 1930 (which was not a great time for women, what with no rights and all that).
But, here, not all the powerful women are good people. Mother Morevna, the leader of the town, has a certain moral flexibility. The author of the book does not see the world in a binary tug of war between good and evil, acknowledging that there are gray areas, and that people are oftentimes a mixed bag of good qualities and bad. Even the villains are real people with understandable motives. We see fully realized people-not cardboard cutouts.
Overall, I thought this book was a standout amongst YA novels, and that’s because it’s not really written like one. Yes, there are a few things that one could say mark it as a YA book, but overall I think the book just tells the story it wants to tell, reshifting the foundations of our world to accommodate its own.
By the way, a note to the author - I really wanted to read a whole book about the life of Mother Morevna, so if that’s in the future, I look forward to it!
Jarad recently graduated from college at MTSU, loves tea and coffee, and tries to spend every spare second reading. He is a fervent gardener and is fascinated by all related topics and has spent several years writing about this passion. He has been gardening for 6 years and believes that Nature is our greatest teacher. He majored in English with a concentration in literature and plans to pursue and master’s degree in Ecocriticism.