The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
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Thought-provoking end-of-world tale; lots of angst, drama.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Parthenogenesis (development of an embryo from an unfertilized egg cell) explained. What the volume of blood is in a human body. A few exotic childbirth customs. Explains that depression amplifies negative thoughts and feelings that are already there.

Positive Messages

Life is the choices we make, especially how we choose to interact with the people we meet. It's lived in the fact that we keep trying to find love, and that we keep going even when we know we're going to lose. Choices have to be made without knowing what the outcome will be or what the future holds; all we can do is follow our instincts, make the best decisions we can. There's no quick fix to healing emotional pain. Do the thing that's in front of you and move on to the next instead of worrying and getting overwhelmed by how much you have to do. We're all stumbling around in the dark, but we're not alone.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Elena's a good role model for helping out her mom, being a loving sister and daughter and loyal friend, trying to learn as much as she can to make right choices. She's also pretty self-centered but learns to put aside her own wants for the sake of others, how to be a better friend. Character names suggest some ethnic diversity. Main character Elena is of Cuban, European ancestry, her best friend is Middle Eastern. Positive representations and some discussion of diverse sexualities: Elena is bisexual. One friend is mostly straight but questioning, another is super straight. Elena's love interest, Winifred, is also bisexual. Elena refuses to "heal" someone who doesn't want to be gay anymore because she says it's not a disease.

Violence

A shooting without gory descriptions but mention of lots of blood. A few menacing or hostile encounters with an alcoholic. A cut is briefly described, blood's mentioned. A father accidentally gives his son a concussion -- no details provided except that the son got in the way of an argument. A past suicide is important. A known assailant kidnaps by grabbing and yanking, and there's a scuffle when the victim tries to get away. People are unwillingly made to vanish ("raptured") as a consequence of Elena using her ability to heal. Nonviolent bullying pranks mentioned as a possible shooting motive.

Sex

A few kisses within both same- and opposite-sex couples, one mentioning tongue and heavy breathing but otherwise no detailed descriptions. Teens talk about making out in the past. A long conversation about a past decision on whether or not to have an abortion. Brief talk about getting your period; tampons mentioned and a box of them is placed on the lunch table. School posters mention various STDs. A condom wrapper noticed in a playground. A wet dream. A teen says, "I'd bang her," and mention that a girl tried to "finger" another at a party. Mention of "soaking my jeans" and boys wanting to stick their penises into a certain part of girls' anatomy.

Language

"D--k," "slut," "f--k," "s--t," "poo," "crap," "a--hole," "bastards," and "bitch."

Consumerism

An important event takes place at a Starbucks where Elena works. Rare mention of other food, retail, clothing, candy, and car brands. One mention of Camels.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A bad guy is an alcoholic, often drinking beer, becoming hostile. He also often reeks of cigarettes. A few mentions of teens drinking at parties, including one mention of a girl who threw up at a party. A neighbor sells weed, another neighbor bakes some of it into brownies and cookies and once gave some to someone without telling that person what was in them. People imagine a low-income apartment complex has coke dealers hanging around; it doesn't. Mention that Elena's mother smoked while pregnant, unable to make good choices at 16 years old and on her own.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza, by Shaun David Hutchinson (At the Edge of the Universe, We Are the Ants), has elements of fantasy and magical realism. It's about a high school junior with the ability to heal people. Aspects of sexuality are frequent topics but not explicit. Elena is bisexual, and other characters are at varying places on the spectrum of human sexual orientation. Elena was born of a virgin, and a scientific explanation is given for how that might be possible. Violence is rare and never gory. There's a shooting that mentions blood, and a kidnapping, and an alcoholic accidentally gives his son a concussion, though it's not explained exactly how. Sexual activity is mostly a few kisses between same-sex and opposite-sex couples and a few mentions of making out in the past. Strong language includes "f--k," "s--t," and "d--k." Diverse ethnicities are represented. Strongest messages are about how to make the best choices you can while asking whether consequences matter, which ones you can live with, how faith or lack of it informs your choices, and more.

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What's the story?

THE APOCALYPSE OF ELENA MENDOZA starts when 16-year-old Elena gets some startling new information from the voices she's been hearing for as long as she can remember. When Freddie, the girl Elena has a crush on, is shot right in front of her, the voices inform Elena that she has the power to heal Freddie of the gunshot wound in the abdomen. Elena doesn't quite know how she does it, but she does. Freddie is completely healed, with no sign of any injury and no more pain. But whenever Elena heals someone, random people from all around the world (and some not-so-random people close by) disappear into a ray of light, never to be seen again. The voices warn that the "raptured" people are being saved from an impending apocalypse, but Elena's not sure she believes the voices. And even though she wants to heal people, she's not sure she can keep doing it if it means others are taken away without being asked if they want to leave. Elena knows that the choices we make can have ramifications that last for years, even for generations. So how can she be sure she's making the right choice for herself, and for everyone else?

Is it any good?

Teens who like end-of-the-world scenarios will enjoy the humor, angst, and drama in this fantasy novel. They'll appreciate that The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza doesn't spoon-feed easy answers. They'll laugh at Elena's sassy, kind-of-cynical attitude, and they'll relate to Elena as she struggles with how to make the right choice, how to approach her longtime crush, and how to handle life when everything seems to be changing before she's ready.

Readers who like magical realism with a dash of the existential will easily accept the voices, the healing, the virgin mother, the beams of light, and the impending doom. Harder to accept in the otherwise realistic, modern-day world might be how calm everybody is, how much life goes on like normal, how little worldwide attention Elena receives, and how her friends and family aren't worried about life ending as much as they are about Elena making up her mind what to do. Those interested in the relatable relationship, friendship, and high school dramas; family life; and learning to make tough choices may find that the fantastical elements just get in the way of all that. Those who can find the middle ground will hope for more after the wide-open ending.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza explores the theme of choice. How does Elena figure out what she should do? Have you ever had to make a hard choice? Are you more or less decisive than Elena?

  • Why are books, movies, and TV about the end of the world so popular? What else have you read or watched with similar themes? Which is your favorite? Why?

  • What would you do if you had Elena's ability to heal? Do you think she handles it well? What about the consequences?

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