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.
Could you please do me a favor and hold this for me for a second? *shoves my feelings into your hands and runs away*
David Hutchinson’s books are the kind of books you psychoanalyse in the shower, while staring into the indeterminable void, so far gone into nothingness that you almost expect it to reply, fully aware of the fact that we’re all hurtling on a rock through space and are specks to the grand arena of the universe, equally fascinated and terrified by the otherworldly creatures existing in a plane beyond ours, and wondering if this world is not only an illusion but solely based on the perception your life and experiences have refined you into believing and maybe truly it’s you against everyone else’s version of the world… or maybe you really need to stop having this mental conversation with yourself because it’s getting weird and you’re squandering water.
You’re a story. I’m a story. There are 7.5 billion stories on the planet. Two hundred and fifty new stories begin each minute, and 105 stories end. It’s easy to allow the world to collapse down to our own stories. To see ourselves as the central figure in the only story worth knowing and forget that every person we encounter is living their own, is the center of their own universe.
So what is this book about?
Elena Mendoza, a bisexual Cuban American teen, is the product of a scientifically proven virgin birth – parthenogenesis, a fact that has always left her standing in the blast zone of her classmates’ taunts and gossip when they went off. Elena also hears voices emanating from inanimate objects and when her long-time crush, Freddie, is shot in Starbucks, these same clamoring voices instruct her to heal her. Elena soon discovers the occupational hazard of performing miracles: with each healing, random people around the world seem to be raptured, disappearing into a beam of light. Logic swam away from Elena as more unbelievable things occurred and she is left with the stark realization that the world is coming to an end and impossibly, she’s the only one who can stop it.
The story was artfully original – combining the realistic and the surreal and incorporating some remarkably hefty philosophical stuff that will make you want to go outside in the middle of the night and walk around and not actually do anything just observe and think and be. The book grapples with heavy questions about social responsibility and the meaning of free will and delves into themes of identity and the complexities of relationships, both romantic and platonic. It also highlights how being “a good person” is not an inherent trait. It’s a conscious effort, but above all, a choice that you have to keep making. It doesn’t mean that you’ll never have bad thoughts, that you’ll never be tempted by the low road or by the easier path, that you won’t make mistakes and act selfishly and hurt the people you love along the way, it only means that you have to actively keep trying – thinking of it only at the beginning of your journey is not enough.
Central to Elena’s narrative is a varied cast of characters: Elena’s best friend, Fadil, who is Muslim and possibly aromatic and/or asexual (he’s still questioning his sexuality) believes that her powers are God-given; and her crush Freddie, who’s also queer, struggles with depression and being the involuntary recipient of a miraculous healing.
But that’s life. One long tunnel. There are lights along the way. Sometimes they feel spread farther apart than others, but they’re there. And when you find one, it’s okay to stand under it for a while to catch your breath before marching back into the dark.
With that being said, I was frankly more interested in knowing about how the world was supposedly going to end which was firmly in my circle of interests, and less interested in hearing about the same slow cycle of healing and disappearing and endlessly pondering the possibility of the healing without risking the eventuality of disappearing, which was decidedly outside of my circle of interests. The repetitiveness was unwieldy at times and my excitement was increasingly dampening by how bored I was – the level of boredom where everything I read started sounding like a four-layer deep Google Translate output sentence. I don’t think I really played an active role in this reading experience: things just happened, and I was like, “oh ok.” I also felt this sort of huge disconnect from the characters – to be honest, I was as equally engaged with them as I was on the opening pages and with a novel of this length and with a considerable amount of time spent with the characters, this fact was really disheartening.
Overall, Hutchinson’s stories are often a jumble of memory and thought and emotion, posing questions that are too strange, too vast, and sometimes too terrifying to contemplate, and while this was not a bad book at all, it didn’t quite live up to the grandeur of his previous books.