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The Elementals

The Elementals

by Saundra Mitchell

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Kate Witherspoon has lived a bohemian life with her artist parents. In 1917, the new art form of the motion picture is changing entertainment—and Kate is determined to become a director.

     Meanwhile, midwestern farm boy Julian Birch has inherited the wanderlust that fueled his parents’ adventures. A childhood bout


Kate Witherspoon has lived a bohemian life with her artist parents. In 1917, the new art form of the motion picture is changing entertainment—and Kate is determined to become a director.

     Meanwhile, midwestern farm boy Julian Birch has inherited the wanderlust that fueled his parents’ adventures. A childhood bout with polio has left him crippled, but he refuses to let his disability define him.

     Strangers driven by a shared vision, Kate and Julian set out separately for Los Angeles, the city of dreams. There, they each struggle to find their independence. When they finally meet, the teenage runaways realize their true magical legacy: the ability to triumph over death, and over time. But as their powerful parents before them learned, all magic comes with a price.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher


"A sumptuous read, as bittersweet as it is beautiful."—Aprilynne Pike, New York Times bestselling author of Wings and Spells

"Saundra Mitchell pulls off a thrilling conclusion to a mesmerizing series! She just gets better and better!"—Carrie Ryan, New York Times bestselling author of The Forest of Hands and Teeth series

"Mitchell convincingly portrays the glittering, raucous L.A. of the burgeoning movie industry and the oppressive unease of looming war."—Booklist



"[A] richly conceived historical romance. . . . Fans of Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty will find themselves enchanted by this atmospheric tale."—Bulletin

"Equal parts vivid period detail, gothic melodrama, and foreboding premonitions coming true . . . an absorbing tale."—Booklist

"Written in a passionate, inviting voice, The Vespertine is a rich, historical novel of otherworldly power, forbidden romance, and questionable motives."—Aprilynne Pike, New York Times bestselling Author of Wings and Spells

"Sheer pleasure from beginning to end."—TeenReads.com

"I savored every word of The Vespertine; I knew it was an amazing book from the first page and I was entranced until the very last."—Carrie Ryan, New York Times bestselling author of The Forest of Hands and Teeth series



"A lovely historical romance. . . . The author conjures a convincing picture of life on the Oklahoma prairie, painting an absorbing portrait of the landscape and of the people there. . . . A high-quality, absorbing drama."—Kirkus Reviews

"The Springsweet will steal your heart. Zora is a wounded heroine who had me cheering as she rediscovers the strength she thought she'd lost. Blend in a smoldering, yet refreshingly subtle hero, and add a twist of magic and you have a perfect romance in the Old West with another of Saundra Mitchell's signature rich and nuanced historic settings!"—Aprilynne Pike, New York Times bestselling author of Wings and Spells

"I didn't think YA historicals could get better than The Vespertine. The Springsweet proved me wrong. This is a gorgeous, unputdownable book that will stay with you long after it's through. Saundra Mitchell just gets better and better."—Sarah MacLean, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake

"With Saundra Mitchell’s trademark evocative and gorgeous language, The Springsweet takes us across the plains, where the people thirst for love just as the land thirsts for water. I never wanted this book to end!"—Carrie Ryan, New York Times bestselling author of The Forest of Hands and Teeth series

VOYA - Camille Birch
As The Elementals follows its protagonists' intertwined stories, Mitchell writes with careful attention to historical detail and character development. Readers will easily relate to the main characters as they struggle to follow dreams in the world's imperfect reality. The plot, however, meanders along without many moments of tension or intrigue, and fails to truly grab the reader's interest. The conclusion also falls short, leaving the reader slightly confused, and rather dissatisfied with the protagonists' fates. 3Q, 3P. Reviewer: Camille Birch, Teen Reviewer
VOYA - Rebecca Moore
Endowed with the power to briefly stop time, Kate has grown up all over the world with her elementally gifted parents, Nathaniel and Amelia. 1917 finds them in California, where teenage Kate—against her parents' wishes—longs to become a movie director. Meanwhile, midwestern teenage farm boy Julian also comes from elementally gifted parents. Although polio has left him with a crippled leg and no clear future, he too has a supernatural gift: he can revive small dead creatures at the cost of temporarily dying himself. Despite having never met, each teen has visions of the other, and when both seize their independence and run away from home, destiny takes over—and it may not end in their favor. Kate and Julian are both strong, well-drawn characters, and readers will identify and sympathize with their longings for independence. The believable, practical difficulties they encounter while trying to survive help color in the 1917 worlds of California and the midwest. As part of a series including The Vespertine (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011/Voya June 2011) and The Springsweet (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012/Voya April 2012), The Elementals does not stand alone. Mitchell only sketchily explains the adult characters' backgrounds and the elemental powers, which often feel like awkward interruptions in the main storyline. The supernatural plot fights against, rather than intertwines, with the more realistic and compelling story of teens striving to live on their own. Because of this, new readers may find the denouement unfortunately confusing and unnecessary. Buy only where the series is popular. Reviewer: Rebecca Moore
Children's Literature - Barbara Monroe
Right from the start we are given a clue as to the special nature of two women, Amelia van den Broek and Zora Stewart Birch. However, this story is not about them but their children—a son and a daughter. Kate Witherspoon, the daughter of Amelia, has lived all over the world. Her parents’ special gift allows them to move from one location to another instantly. Kate wants to become a movie director. She decides to dress up in her father’s clothes and sneak out to the Palais de Danse where young people meet and dance together. It is a little confusing why Kate felt the need to dress up as a boy and even more confusing when she picks up Mollie Foster. Mollie is a cute young girl. Kate persuades Mollie to became the star in her movie. Once the film has been shot, Kate and Mollie decide to run away to Los Angeles. Kate leaves without being notices because she can stop time. Julian Birch, the son of Zora, is a midwestern farm boy with a physical disability that renders him useless on the farm. Julian’s gift is to bring back something that has died. In doing so, he dies a little himself. He sets out for Los Angeles determined to make more of his life. Kate and Julian’s destinies are set, but at what cost is their special gifts. This story is a little confusing. We are not as connected to the main characters to care enough for the ultimate end. Perhaps because this is the third book there is a disconnect, which would have been nurtured throughout the first three books. This is the last book in a trilogy. It is highly recommended that the books be read in order. Reviewer: Barbara Monroe; Ages 12 up.
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—Part historical fiction, part supernatural, The Elementals brings together Kate, the wild and brash daughter of Amelia and Nathaniel, whose love story was told in The Vespertine (2011), and Julian, the steady and empathetic son of Zora and Emerson from The Springsweet (2012, both Houghton Harcourt). It follows their ill-fated journeys as they run away from their respective homes and strike out on their own in 1917 Los Angeles. Both quickly discover they are not prepared for city life, Kate because she has never had to work or take care of herself and Julian due to his physical disability. Although they share visions of each other each time they use their powers, the two do not actually meet until the final few chapters of the book. This delayed introduction to their joint story becomes tedious at times as readers are often left wondering when their stories will finally converge. When they do meet, they discover that Kate's ability to stop time and Julian's ability to bring back life are more powerful together, but that they also have life-threatening consequences. The backdrop of the war and the blossoming movie industry are well drawn, and the descriptions of the two using their abilities are fascinating, but the plot drags as the main characters struggle to survive on their own. The ending is abrupt and will leave many readers unsatisfied. This is a palatable offering, but it is not as intriguing a paranormal historical romance as Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty (Delacorte, 2003) or Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl's Beautiful Creatures (Little, Brown, 2011).—Tammy Turner, Centennial High School, Frisco, TX
Kirkus Reviews
The final book in Mitchell's historical trilogy with paranormal overtones (The Springsweet, 2012, etc.). In Connersville, Ind., young Julian Birch struggles to accept the limitations imposed by his polio-withered leg: Unlike his brothers, he won't be able to fight in World War I or work the family farm. But Julian has inherited a gift from his parents. Father Emerson can affect earth (how is not precisely clear), and mother Zora calls water. Julian can bring dead insects back to life; he also has visions of a strange girl on the edge of an ocean. Meanwhile, Kate, the bohemian daughter of Amelia (fire elemental) and Nathaniel (air), can stop time—but is much more interested in becoming a filmmaker. Eventually, the two meet in Los Angeles, where they discover exactly how much their gifts cost. The ending of the book is truly compelling. However, it's a tough road getting there. Readers unfamiliar with the first two books will struggle to understand veiled references to the elementals' gifts. The menacing character of Caleb/Virgil appears at first with seemingly no reason. Frequent point-of-view shifts and a certain floridness in Mitchell's prose make it difficult to care about the characters, and uneven pacing means that some characters get far too much page time for their importance to the plot. The least successful of the three. (Paranormal historical fantasy. 12 & up)

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chicago, Illionois 1893

Ordinary girls are untroubled by destiny.
   Unfortunately, neither amelia van den Broek nor Zora Stewart Birch was entirely ordinary. they leaned against the dining counter, watching the whole of the world grow smaller as they rose into the air on the great Ferris wheel.
   Incandescent bulbs twinkled all around them, captured stars that illuminated the car and its sparse elegance. Seats with velvet cushions and wire backs filled the gallery, lazily spinning with no one to sit in them.
   Tearing off a bit of fried dough, amelia pointed toward a white-columned building in the distance and said, “That one right there. You should go look at the murals; I helped paint them.”
   “How many talents do you have, amelia?” Zora asked.
   With a snort, amelia popped the dough into her mouth and said, “Too many. I see the future, I rise from the dead, I’m forever not strangling Nathaniel.”
   “So your temper’s improved.”
   Amelia laughed. “Hardly. I quarrel instead of strangle, and he does the same.”
   Her eyes trailed to the corner of the car. Her Nathaniel leaned against the wall, talking to Emerson, entirely ignoring the view outside the window. He could travel on the wind; he had a sick and regular habit of jumping from heights for the thrill of it. Seeing chicago and its World’s Fair from a locked car didn’t interest him in the least.
   After a moment, Zora pressed a finger against amelia’s nose, then laughed at her dazed expression when she tore her gaze away.
   “You’re such a liar,” Zora said, marveling. “You’re still mad for him.”
   “I am, I admit.”
   “Good,” Zora said. “We needed one good thing to come from all that.”
   In reply, amelia kicked Zora’s foot and let that speak for itself. I have you, it said. And you have me as well.
   “Mean,” Zora said, then clutched the counter. She wasn’t sure she liked the view from this distance, and when the car swung ever so slightly, she startled. it turned out that she was a ground-beneath-the-feet sort of girl. Skyscrapers didn’t interest her, and she had learned to dislike the crush of cities. even though darkness mostly disguised chicago that night, it made little difference.
   Toward the east, thin fingers of lightning stroked the sky. it was a storm so removed, it seemed more decoration than threat.
   Amelia frowned at it. then she asked, “Does it worry you?”
   “Not especially.” Smoothing a hand down amelia’s sleeve, Zora smiled. “I’m not in the middle of it; I didn’t command it. So I think it has better things to strike.”
   They’d had days to unburden themselves, to make confessions and share new secrets. they’d spent hours acting like children, spending pennies on Magic lantern shows and sneaking into the opera, riding the train together, perched on top.
   Pretending this visit would last forever, Zora would still sometimes grow sober and exchange a look with amelia. a room was different when four of them shared it. Not bad, but not right, as if everything trembled on the edge of explosion.
   Amelia smiled crookedly. She felt the balance shifting and tried to cling to her best friend just a little longer. “I’ve been thinking. We could be the most remarkable wonder of the world if we wanted. a full circus, contained in four bodies.”
   “We could call ourselves the Glorious elements,” Zora agreed. it would never happen, but they could spin fables about it.
   “Barnum and Bailey would beg us to travel with them.” Spreading her hands out, Zora imagined the headlines. “A spectacle for the ages, see the gifts of the ancients performed before your very eyes.”
   “We’d be world famous!”
   “And rich!”
   Throwing her arms around amelia, Zora pressed their brows together. in a sudden, quiet confession, she said, “It frightens me sometimes, the things we can do.”
   “The only reason it doesn’t frighten me,” amelia confided, “Is that I refuse to look anymore.”
   Zora loosened her grip a bit. “I’ll look, but I won’t call it.”
   “Is Emerson careful?”
   “Oh yes.” Zora caught a glimpse of Emerson sprawled in one of the plush seats. He rubbed his own knees idly, his face turned up to listen as Nathaniel held forth. “It would be easy to ruin good land if he weren’t thoughtful. Between us, I’m the reckless one.”
   Dark eyes lighting up, amelia laughed. “Which means you’re both ridiculously steady. Practically dull, even.”
   “I resent that,” Zora said. “I stole a horse once!”
   Falling quiet, they held tight as the wheel finally crested its greatest height. the fair below was nothing but bright sparks of electric light. chicago was a silhouette against the distant storm. in that quiet, crystallized moment, trembling in the sky, caged in glass, they both feared this was the end for them.
   Zora was married; amelia planned to never be. One settled, the other wild, there was no reason for them to meet again. they would have to tend their friendship carefully if they wanted to keep it.
   Interrupting them, Nathaniel tucked his yellow handkerchief back into his pocket and held out a hand. “We should go before the rain catches us.”
   Amelia squeezed Zora once more, then turned to whisper in her ear. “Promise me this won’t be the end.”
   Shaking her head, Zora pulled back to meet her gaze. “I swear it.”
   Coming to join them, Emerson slipped an arm around Zora’s shoulders. “Good to meet you,” he said, and he meant it in an abstract sort of way.
   The car was empty save for their little group, so Nathaniel didn’t bother with discretion. He unlocked the door, opening the car to the night sky. they still dangled above the fair, all its white lights miniature and blinking below them. Pulling amelia close, Nathaniel nodded his goodbyes. then he twisted the wind and they jumped. they disappeared, swallowed by the signature of Nathaniel’s magic: the black void and gold stars.
   From without, Zora and Emerson stared at a space that was simply, suddenly unoccupied. the explosive edge to their meeting faded, and Emerson relaxed. Brushing a kiss against Zora’s hair, he held her tight when she curled toward him. “Was it a good visit?”
   “Yes,” Zora replied. She closed her eyes and pressed her face against his shirt, breathing him in until the ache inside her faded. the hum of gears filled her ears, her skin prickling with the heat she drew from Emerson’s body.
   Somewhere in Washington Park, amelia and Nathaniel stood beneath the glow of a phosphorescent lamp. trees whispered around them, turning their leaves to stretch for the coming rain. With water in the air, and the rivers that wound through town, they’d have to walk for a while.
   Since they didn’t yet know where they were going, a walk before a storm suited amelia’s mood exactly. She wasn’t an ordinary girl; neither was Zora.
   Destiny waited.

Connersville, Indiana 1906

The first time Julian Birch died, he was six years old.
   It was autumn, precisely, just before it was time to mow the harvested cornstalks down. they stood sentinel in the fields, papery and gold. Stretching toward the horizon, they could be endless—and frightening. With each breath of wind, they hissed. they whispered at night. they towered and shook sharp fingers, and quivered. they were terrible. Sometimes, Julian sat in his eldest brother’s window upstairs. From there, the cornfields didn’t look like a menacing wall. the stalks stood in their rows, trapped in neat lines, separated by gullies. it was only corn, good to eat for boys and pigs alike, nothing dangerous at all.
   When charlie found him at the window late in September, whispering to the fields, he went to carry him back to bed. Julian shivered all the way to his room. the walls bent toward them; dark faces appeared in the flowered wallpaper, baring their awful teeth. Pressing his face to charlie’s shoulder, Julian didn’t want to let go.
   “All right, bedtime,” charlie said.
   Julian clung to him, croaking, “My head is broken.”
   With that, charlie carried him downstairs, interrupting his parents’ reading. each night, no matter how long the day, they always read together. Mama perched on Papa’s lap; she whispered poetry against his cheek, and he murmured the almanac in reply.
   This vaguely embarrassed the older boys, but they suffered in silence. they weren’t invited to this ritual, and if they didn’t want to see it, there was always plenty of work to do around the farm, even at night.
   “Sorry,” charlie said, shifting Julian in his arms. “Found him upstairs talking to the corn. I think he has a fever.”
   Mama slipped to her feet, taking the baby and turning back in surprise. “Emerson, he’s burning up.” She still thought of him as the baby; her baby, golden-haired and brown-eyed, her favorite little sunflower.
   “I’ll get the aspirin,” Papa replied, then looked to charlie. “Go make up the sitting room for him.”
   Before dawn, Papa rode into town to fetch the doctor. The doctor couldn’t say for certain what the matter was, but with a fever so high and a child so listless, it could only be contagious. No one slept that night; Henry and Sam stuffed a straw-ticking mattress. Mama and Papa took turns bathing Julian with cold water from the well.
   By dawn, Julian had a new bed in the pole barn. Mama arranged him on the mattress with the best pillow in the house. the ache in his head felt like a driven spike. it vibrated down his spine and stole all the strength from his legs. Mama came out with meals, but no one else was allowed inside.
   Sam and Henry liked to run outside and knock at the walls. Sometimes they’d yell in if they found a toad or a snake or had had a good dessert at dinner. charlie came, but Julian never knew it. He huddled by the door and peered at him through the crack.
   The barn was sweet and quiet, filled not with animals but with hay. light filtered between the boards, marionettes of dust dancing in the beams.
   But for all that visiting, it was lonely, and he couldn’t sleep all the time. Mama would come, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. She alone came inside. Knowing she’d soon be along to wake him made it easier for him to sleep.
   At night, the corn whispered. it surrounded him, stretching for him, dried and dead and hissing his name as the cool autumn moon passed by.
   The only good thing about his prison in the barn was that he didn’t have to walk all the way to the outhouse. He had his own pot. during the day, Mama carried it to him and took it away to be emptied. Julian didn’t want to use it alone, not at night, not with the cornstalks pressing in from all sides. Mama would check on him eventually, but on the fourth night, he couldn’t wait.
   Rolling from bed, he collapsed. the bright green sting of hay dust hazed around him. His skin prickled; he wheezed breathing it in. cool earth spread out beneath him, and if it hadn’t been for the itching, it would have been nice. No more aching, no more burning—just pounded dirt, chilly at night and steady.
   Still, it felt wrong to lie there. Pushing up slowly, Julian found that his arms held him, but his legs simply would not. they were soft as dough, and nearly as biddable. collapsing again, Julian peered at the door. it was open the slightest bit—if he could drag himself there, perhaps Mama would hear him call?
   So inch by inch, he dug his fingers into the dirt and scraped across it on his belly. a chill broke out on his skin, and sickness drove a new spike in the back of his head. Though it felt like he had dragged himself for hours, it was only minutes, and barely half a foot. Wasted, his cheek pressed against the ground, he gazed through the open door.
   Everything looked wrong. too blue, turned the wrong way. then he saw a scarecrow carrying his mama through the yard. the field’s terrible rasp wavered, filling the night and washing over him. Julian opened his mouth and shaped the words Mama, help! Papa, please! But no sound would come out.
   Pain thundered through his head and, exhausted, Julian stilled. He lay his cheek against the floor and exhaled. a dead beetle spun, its husk rattling in the quiet. Blinking slowly, Julian blew on it again and watched as its spindly legs flickered. righting itself, the beetle skittered into the shadows, leaving Julian entirely alone.
   His chest quieted, no heartbeat and no breath. the corn quit whispering; his skin stopped aching. everything went black.
   But then, like a lantern starts with a spark and slowly glows, an ocean crept in. Sound came first, the rush of water chasing earth. Salt spread over Julian’s tongue, thin and liquid as waves stretched to fill the dark.
   He’d never seen the sea, but he recognized a beach all the same. rocky outcroppings framed the water with sharp edges. Mist cooled his skin, and he made out a silhouette, barely discernible in the night.
   Dark hair spilled from a cap, one silver lock fingered by the wind. a thread of fire traced the horizon, revealing a curve of hips, a hint of a smile. the sweet scent of honeysuckle swept around her.
   Holding out her hands, she waited. She was tall and pretty and very grown-up, Julian thought, so he didn’t understand why she was waiting for him. Her lips moved, but his father’s voice spilled out.
   “Wake up, Julian, wake up.”
   And then it burned. everything—the girl, the ocean—peeled away in flecks of char and ash, and when Julian sucked in his next breath, he sputtered. lungs searing, and pain thundering back through his limbs, he cried when Papa shook him.
   Tucked back in his bed, Julian pressed his face against his father’s rough shirt and shivered the rest of the night through. He was safe from the corn, from the dark, from the ocean—and he dozed as a black beetle rustled through the hay beneath his head.
   That was the first time Julian Birch died. But it would not be the last.

Meet the Author

Saundra Mitchell is a screenwriter and author. Her companion novels The Vespertine, The Springsweet, and The Elementals have been praised for their rich historical settings, evocative language, and heart-pounding romance. Her debut novel, Shadowed Summer, was a 2010 Edgar Award Nominee, a Junior Library Guild selection, and an ALAN Pick. Visit her website at www.saundramitchell.com.

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