I received a free copy of this book in the form of an ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review will contain spoilers, which I will not be tagging. Proceed at your own discretion.
That was a disappointing read. From the book summary and multitudinous positive reviews, I was expecting to be swept off my feet by some spectacular work of art. Instead, I felt like I was reading an entirely unrevised first draft of a mediocre novel. Despite approaching the book with an open mind, and wanting to enjoy it as much as the other reviewers had, I had to force myself through 2/3 of the book, almost marking it DNF on numerous occasions, hoping that it would improve drastically. Don't get your hopes up.
Teenage genius and child prodigy, Sean Malone, is known across the United States as one of the most successful participants on the popular television show, Jeopardy, where he competed regularly against adults at the age of eleven. Now fourteen, Sean is attending Southern California Technology Institute with students nearly twice his age. When he correctly solves a complex computer algorithm that had stumped countless computer geeks for decades, Sean is forced by the United States government to sign a waiver, agreeing to never reveal this knowledge due to its potentially harmful and widespread consequences. For his own safety, Sean is forced to relocate to Italy and adapt an alias, a boy by the name of James. After arriving in Italy, Sean begins to rebuild his life, forming friendships, finding a girlfriend, and trying to leave his past behind him. When his girlfriend contracts Ebola, however, Sean must figure out how to save her before it's too late.
As I touched on earlier, this did not strike me as a nearly finalized and published copy of a book - more like a very rough draft. While I understand that the majority of ARCs undergo further revisions before publication, Elixir
contained the greatest number of errors in any ARC that I have read to date. Blatantly obvious errors. Errors that shouldn't have made it past the first draft. The most aggravating punctuation errors were commas, or lack thereof. If I counted all of the occasions where a necessary comma was omitted, I would have a double, or even triple, digit number (a very high one, to say the least). On several occasions, the commas that were present were misused, either inserted in the wrong location or entirely unnecessary. And yes, I am very stringent about comma usage, if you hadn't already gathered that. Additionally, there were some issues with switching verb tenses, as well as noun-pronoun agreement.
I also wasn't a huge fan of the 3rd person limited narrator. This led to excessive pronoun overuse - instead of referring to the main character as Sean, 98% of the time, the author inserted a pronoun, i.e. "he" or "him." This also held true for the other characters in the book, leading to a very large, tangled mess of pronouns, leaving readers stumped as to which he or she is being referenced in any particular sentence. The 3rd person narrator also prevented the author from conveying Sean's thoughts and emotions, which would have drastically improved the story. Not privy to what was going on in Sean's head, it was challenging to connect with him and grasp his perspective on events as they unfolded.
After Sean assumed his fake identity as "James," he was referred to as James in all dialogue, yet the author continued to reference him as Sean in the narrative. This was equally confusing and easily could have been avoided.
A final grammatical error that was repeated throughout the novel was repetitive word choice and phrasing, which pretty much speaks for itself. The writing seemed to be dumbed down to suit a much younger audience, but the subject matter was not appropriate for that
young of an audience. A thesaurus would have definitely come in handy in selecting words that do not insult a reader's intelligence. Tying into the repetitive phrasing, Sean traveled to a variety of European countries, all of which spoke a different language. The author had a fascination with designating which language was being spoken, often repeating the dialogue tag of "_____ said in the same language." This was an unnecessary detail that didn't contribute to the overall story.
Overall, the writing style in general was a bit challenging to read. I'm sure you can all imagine why. If you're still stumped, take a look at this character description for yourself:
"He's thin in places he should be thicker, like his shoulders, and thick in places he should be thinner, like his stomach."
Exactly. Enough said.
There were several instances where the author went into too much detail about the characters' day-to-day lives. And yes, most of those were overly graphic, TMI moments. For example, I'm sure we could all do without the comments about a character having to pull over on the side of the highway to urinate (yes, there are a few details excluded here - trying to keep this review PG-13). It's entirely superfluous and does not factor into the plot whatsoever, serving merely as filler to lengthen the book. I have yet to come across a person who enjoys reading filler, let alone vulgar filler.
Many of the scenes were a bit abrupt and unrealistic, a little too perfect. For example, when Sean visits Switzerland, he becomes perfectly fluent in German in less than an hour by reading an instructional book on the plane ride (and yes, German is one of the official languages of Switzerland). I realize that he's intelligent, but I doubt even Albert Einstein would have been capable of such a feat.
Additionally, when Sean's girlfriend contracts Ebola, an extremely deadly and previously incurable illness, Sean magically develops the cure in a matter of hours, a cure that had stumped thousands of scientists before him.
Similarly, his girlfriend contracts Ebola during her family vacation in Africa. After extensive testing, no one else in her family tests positive for the illness. To put it in perspective, Ebola is extremely contagious. That's why any caretakers or visitors of Ebola patients are forced to wear biohazard suits and take proper precautionary measures. Therefore, if Sean's girlfriend was exposed to the virus, theoretically, the rest of her family would have been exposed to it, as well, and also would have fallen ill.
A short while later, Sean is involved in a serious car crash, but manages to walk away from the accident immediately after the car comes to a standstill, only casually noticing several blocks later that his ankle has been torn to shreds, the bone nearly exposed. Sean, however, continues on his merry little way, no indication that he is injured in any way. He even manages to run
numerous blocks at top speed, because clearly ankles and their surrounding muscles and ligaments are unimportant for motor function.
The last unrealistic scenario, and the most humorous of the bunch, was Sean's ability to render a fully grown, athletic man unconscious using the metal rod that is generally bolted to bathroom walls to hold rolls of toilet paper. Seriously? You couldn't even knock out a cat with one of those, no matter how hard you tried. Good effort, but I'm not buying it.
There was one final, small detail that really got on my nerves - Sean's extreme fascination with Coke not tasting like Coke after his girlfriend contracts Ebola:
"Sean sips from a straw in his can of Coke, taste not like the one he's used to, his world remaining flavorless with his girlfriend still sick."
He only comments on his tasteless Coke four or five times throughout the novel, which certainly And really? Your girlfriend's still sick? I had no clue.
You only mention it about every other sentence.
As I'm hoping you've gathered, this book certainly wasn't for me - from the writing, countless errors, characters, and unbelievable plot. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't justify how so many other reviewers had given this book four and five stars. I desperately wanted to enjoy the novel, especially since the author had been kind enough to print and mail me a copy of the book, but it lacked many of the components I would use to define a spectacular piece of writing. Consequently, I won't be recommending it to anyone anytime soon. And I think that concludes my mini rant.