The Young Elites by Marie Lu is a wonderfully imaginative novel with so many layers of story-telling intertwined. Lu creates a world with three moons, and tells us the story of Adelina Amouteru, who lives on an island where the Inquisition chases after the malfettos — children scourged by a horrible blood fever that leaves them marked and with special abilities. She creates poetry, history, literary quotes, ancient gods, and the mythology that lies behind this elaborate tale. But most importantly, she creates complex characters and action-packed scenes that drive the story forward, pulling you in, forcing you to turn the pages as quickly as possible just see what happens next.
Adelina is a tortured soul — and I wanted to root for her every step of the way. But the poor girl is broken, beaten, and deeply disturbed. She has the makings of a very powerful villain… I just wanted to see her succeed so badly. My denial almost made me miss all the signs. She loses her mother to the blood fever, she is unloved and mistreated by her awful father, she’s sold off as a mistress, watches her father being trampled to death by a horse, is imprisoned and sentenced to death by burning at the stake… and this is all within the first few pages of the book! She is raised to feel… insufficient — her beauty is marred by her grey hair and missing eye; she is temperamental, yet eager to please; she is constantly compared (by herself and others) to her beautiful and affable little sister, Violetta. She’s bound to snap. “Soon you’re going to see that things don’t end well for everyone. Some of us are broken and there’s nothing you can do to fix it.”
Yet it is her affinity toward dark emotions that strengthen her. She basks in fear and anger and danger. She is one twisted sixteen-year-old, for sure. But she also wants to belong, she wants to be loved, she wants to be accepted by friends — she simply wants people who will be kind to her without expecting something in return. There is so much loss for Adelina, so much fear of trusting others — so much desire to hurt others as she’s been hurt in return.
“I am Adelina Amouteru… I belong to no one. On this night, I swear to you that I will rise above everything you’ve ever taught me. I will become a force that this world has never known. I will come into such power that none will dare hurt me again.”
Clearly, she means business. As we read her story, empathize with her insecurities, cower along with her in deep dark corners, root for her when things finally start to go right… only to watch them unravel bit by bit… we understand, why to become an unstoppable force, Adelina must suffer, and pull from the darkness of her life the ability to inflict pain upon others.