Series: Elemental #4
Published by Kensington Teen on January 28, 2014
Amazon • Indiebound • Barnes & Noble • Goodreads
Nowhere is safe. Not even home…
Nick Merrick is stretched to the breaking point.
Keep his grades sky-high or he’ll never escape his hometown.
Keep his brother’s business going or the Merricks will be out on the street.
Keep the secret of where he’s going in the evenings from his own twin—-or he’ll lose his family.
Keep his mind off the hot, self-assured dancer who’s supposed to be his “girlfriend’s” partner.
Of course there’s also the homicidal freak Quinn has taken to hanging around, and the Elemental Guide counting the hours until he can try again to kill the Merrick brothers.
There’s a storm coming. From all sides. And then some.
Hi everyone! Since Kate and I are both big fans of the Elemental series, we decided it’d be fun to do a joint review discussion for Secret, the latest installment. Please be aware that there will be spoilers for this series in our chat, although we won’t give away any major plot points in this particular book. Let’s begin!
Wendy: Brigid sure doesn’t mess around. The book stars off with a debriefing/interrogation scene, and then bam! There’s an unexpected event and we’re immediately plunged into the action. It’s great how the prologue serves as both a recap and to jolt you into feeling like you’re in this world again.
Kate: I thought the recap aspects, in particular, were very well done. And what I like about the Unexpected Event was how bad-ass and scary Silver was in the last book, you know? And how I can feel sorry for a character I thought was human garbage previously (this is kind of a theme of this series).
Wendy: It really turned everything you thought about Silver on its head. This was a fun book, like all the previous ones. It’s a little more angsty, and maybe teeters on some typical New Adult type themes at times, but I thought the new antagonist was interesting, even if the main story arc with the Elementals takes more of a back seat in this installment. I love the scenes when the boys use their abilities–there’s such a barely-controlled, earthy power in the way the author describes those scenes, and they never fail to thrill me.
Kate: I loved every scene that was just hot boys hanging out together. She writes them so well. Gah, this series. I love it.
Wendy: Yes! Sometimes the boys get criticized for their smack talk, but I think they’re very realistically written. I gotta admit, I wasn’t a huge fan of Quinn’s POV, though.
Kate: Yeah. She definitely felt like a real person, but not the kind I would want to interact with ever. Hers is my least favorite storyline so far in this series. I also didn’t quite buy the language of how she bodyshamed herself, and I didn’t love when she insulted girls who looked the way she wanted to. I bought it (I was mocked til I cried because of the thin, boobless dancer body I had in high school), but it made me not like her at all. I’m also confused about the situation with her dad. I think this may be one of those things where Brigid, like Gayle Forman, is best at writing middle class characters. Which is totally fine and suits all the rest of her characters.
Wendy: I agree with the least favorite character thing. I found her story arc to be more frustrating than anything else–I mean, it was fine, except I just wanted to get on with Nick’s story and I wasn’t all that interested in what was happening with her. The most compelling thing was her realization that Becca’s known all this stuff about the Elementals all along, but even so. Didn’t get my pulse racing.
Kate: Actually, now that I think about it, I am confused about more things: So her family used to have a little money, and that’s how she got dance lessons, but now they are poor? And her mom became an alcoholic…because of that? I’m legit confused by what is going on here. I couldn’t get a handle on it. And her little brother has a gaming system, which is also not a super cheap thing–especially when you consider that Quinn saved up forever to buy her iPod. And WHAT IS UP WITH HER DAD.
Wendy: I’m…not sure. Nicky’s so much more interesting that I was pretty much trying to get to him, because if people have read Breathless, they know about the big secret that Nick’s been hiding from his brothers. I was really excited when I heard that this character is gay; you don’t see a lot of mainstream books (particularly YA) where the character’s sexuality isn’t the main focus of the story, though certainly books like this and Proxy are changing that.
Kate: Yes. Yes yes yesssss.
Nick kissed him. Not with the feverish intensity of a few moments ago, but a bare brush of the lips.
When he tried to pull away, Adam caught his face and held him there, putting his forehead against his. “You’re going to break my heart. I can feel it.”
“Not if I can help it.” He put a hand over Adam’s, holding it to his cheek. “Slow?”
Adam nodded, turning his head to kiss Nick’s palm.
Then he grinned. “Well,” Adam said. “Slower.“
Wendy: The romantic scenes between Nick and Adam are filled with both tenderness and sexual tension, probably more so than any other LGBT YA couple I’ve read to date. Brigid told me she felt strongly that they deserved that, since the previous couples in her books were afforded that opportunity. Fortunately her editor was all for it, so kudos to Kensington Teen for setting a great example in this way. We want to see relationships portrayed honestly in fiction, whether they’re straight or otherwise.
Kate: Yeah. And the stuff between the guys was legit sexy. But in terms of the other romantic relationship in the book… View Spoiler » OK, so the age of consent in Maryland is sixteen, and even without that, Quinn and Tyler haven’t actually had sex. But their age difference, on top of the creepy big brother stuff, squigged me a little. But maybe it was supposed to. Also, I slept with guys who were older than 21 when I was 17 (but I’d already graduated from high school, and in hindsight those dudes were pathetic), and I met my husband, who is twelve years my senior, when I was 22, so I’m one to talk. « Hide Spoiler
Wendy: That was a little squicky to me too; it’s different when you’re older, but at Quinn’s age it raises some eyebrows. Are we hypocrites since we both liked Unteachable so much? I guess I feel like that issue was addressed in that book, even if they did blow everything out of the water, hah.
Kate: We are not hypocrites. Unteachable is erotica, which is sexual fantasy-based, and a big part of the fantasy there is the fact that it is wrong. Also, I haven’t found many YA stories with incidentally lesbian main characters–have you? Other than Ash? And even Ash, if I remember correctly, did not have sweet, sexy love scenes like Brigid wrote for these boys.
Wendy: The only one I can think of is Reese from the Adaptation series, who has feelings for both a guy and a girl. That’s also by Malinda Lo, and describes same-sex attraction well. Secret takes a little bit more time with Nick and Adam’s physical relationship, though, and I like that it is portrayed in such a healthy way. The pure masculinity of their make-out scenes is also really enjoyable.
Side note: reading text conversations in books usually drives me bonkers. But I like the way it’s done in this series, they’re fantastic examples of how to convey flirtatiousness and meaning and feeling in just a handful of words. Also, COMPLETE WORDS AND SENTENCES.
Kate: Seriously. The only person who uses txtspk with me is my dad, and he’s super old. Young people don’t do that. Oh, and the thing early in the book about a smiley face text just being a parenthesis smile, not a D one, made me laugh.
Wendy: But but but. I do have all kinds of upset over this cover. I’m not prone to dissecting cover art too often in reviews, but in this case I can’t help it. I really, really wish that there were two boys on the cover–this relationship is written with such integrity and passion that it’s disappointing that it’s not represented in the packaging. If we can’t have two boys, I would say that putting Quinn on the cover is at least misleading, because it feels like a misdirect from the core relationship. I get that there are scenes from her POV, but let’s face it–nobody’s reading this for her. Vague blurbing is one thing, but it seems like a disservice to the material when the cover art is SO not a representation of what the heart of the book is about.
And don’t get me started on the new model for Nick and the awful wooden appearance in general. This series deserves so much better.
Kate: Oh, I don’t think that’s a new Nick. Is it? Why would they recast that gorgeous dude? I’d assumed it was Tyler, since we’ve already had two books with a twin on the cover. He looks like an insecure bouncer with his thumb hooked in his pocket like that. Doesn’t he look like a big dumb Tyler-y oaf? I hope the model doesn’t see this. Also, that girl is NOT thick. She’s super thin.
Wendy: Oh no, I assumed it was Nick! Why would that guy be on the cover? I may be even unhappier now. But it sort of makes sense that the model changed if it’s Tyler. Arrrrgh.
Kate: Wendy, if this is a new Nick, I am upset. Nick does NOT dress like that. Or… hair. Not that hair. Please, gods, don’t let that be Nick.
Wendy: We’ll have to ask Brigid. What did you think of how Nick’s coming out was handled? I thought it seemed pretty realistic, and I liked how most of the scenes with the brothers unfolded. However, View Spoiler » I was a bit disappointed in the way Nick and Gabriel’s confrontation took place. It’s not the dramatic flare-up of Gabe’s reaction, because I think we all knew to expect that, but the fact that when the two of them did have a real conversation about it, it was so short and somewhat uneventful. After the build-up of several months/books and knowing how important the relationship is between the two boys, I just wanted more. A lot more. « Hide Spoiler I didn’t even need a long scene, necessarily, just one that provided a bit more of an emotional punch.
Kate: I don’t know. I liked that View Spoiler » everyone but Gabe was like, “Huh. That makes sense,” because it’s never that much of a surprise when someone comes out to you, but it bothered me a little that Gabe was the only person in the town who had a problem with it, because that is NOT the experience young gay people have when they show PDA in public–it’s not even the experience young straight people have. « Hide Spoiler And I agree that that scene was nowhere near sufficient. Also, View Spoiler » bringing all those people to someone’s audition for an arts scholarship is, at best, unhelpful. That was done 100% for Nick and had nothing to do with Adam, and I was kind of upset about it as a grand gesture. « Hide Spoiler
Wendy: Agreed, I rarely like the big dramatic public declaration thing. It feels very Hollywood, and kind of not like Gabe. And I like Adam, but I also think his character was also surprisingly…a lot like you would often expect a gay character to be written? Ballet dancer, View Spoiler » abusive ex-boyfriends « Hide Spoiler, etc. He seems like a nice guy, but I wish he’d been a little more interesting. It’s hard, though, because I still feel that Gabriel and Layne’s relationship in Spark has been the most nuanced of all the couples. They’re both complicated and compelling as individuals, but although they are opposites, you really see how they bring out the best in each other.
Kate: Yeah. It’s tough because the whole series feels like a metaphor for things like being gay, so when it becomes literal… Anyway, I think I was a little bummed that I liked this book less than I did Spirit (which I loved), because heading into that book I was not a fan of Hunter. I think that Nick’s easygoing nature maybe made him more difficult to write? And it feels like Brigid decided to err on the side of not insulting gay people or giving people a negative opinion of the gay couple when it comes to Nick and Adam’s relationship, you know? And I totally get that, if it is the case, but the lack of FUN conflict in their relationship really bummed me out. They were a little too perfect for each other. Especially coming right after Hunter and Kate who had all the banter. I still really liked the book, though, and I only gave it 3.5 stars because it’s not as good the other novels in the series.
Wendy: I thought I’d like this book more than Hunter’s story too, but yeah, I felt a bit let down on Nick’s behalf; you’re probably right about the difficulty of writing his story, and perhaps about the choices made regarding his relationship with Adam. I still enjoyed this, though, and I’m looking forward to Michael’s novel. I’ve always liked him, and I’m curious to know what emotions are simmering beneath the calm, reasonable surface there.
Kate: I adore Michael. He’s such a grump. I think he’s the ideal person to narrate the story where I’m assuming View Spoiler » the Planeteers will finally combine their powers « Hide Spoiler. I’m really excited about the next book–especially after how this one ended. Holy crap, that ending. Really, really, really excited.
Wendy: Heh. View Spoiler »Wonder Twin Powers: Activate! « Hide Spoiler We can only hope.
Advance copies were provided by the publisher for this review. Thanks to Brigid for the shout-out in the acknowledgments for this book, too! I’m sure the bloggers who participated in the Spirit tour will appreciate it.