The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza is a standalone contemporary fantasy novel.
I liked this a lot more than I thought I would, considering I DNFed another book by this author after two chapters. I didn’t think The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza was perfect – there were two things about it (one big, one small) that I really didn’t like – but overall? I loved this.
Let’s start with the good.
The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza is a very weird book, and if you know me, you know I like weird. It’s about a bisexual girl of Cuban descent who had a virgin birth and can perform miracles.
I like weird because it’s a very interesting way to explore concepts, and those concepts can be everything: the importance of folklore, environmentalism, military ethics… here, the meaning of choices.
This is a very character-driven book: its focus is on Elena’s decisions, Elena’s agency, and the way it can influence other people’s agency. It was a really interesting theme and I liked what Hutchinson did with it.
I also loved the writing. I did think it should have been subtler sometimes, but I loved the main character’s voice. Elena’s sarcasm strikes the perfect balance between funny and dark in a book set during the apocalypse. Don’t expect a novel full of action and plot twists – this book’s premise is basically everyday life at the end of the world. It’s great.
I really liked the characters. Elena was flawed but not unlikable, and I loved her, just like I loved her best friend Fadil, but what I loved the most was how the author allowed (almost) every character to be layered – even the ones that are, at the end of the story, pretty much irredeemable.
The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza is mostly about choices, but that’s not the only theme explored here – it also talks about depression (TW: suicidal thoughts, suicidal ideation, suicide of a minor character) and what defines an illness. I loved that in a story about healing the sick the author took his time to define what it means to be sick, but here I found the first thing I didn’t like.
Elena and two of her friends have a conversation about autism and how it is often perceived as an illness (there are still people looking for a cure out there, sometimes also with eugenics, yay). She asks “but what if an autistic person asked me to cure them?” and then cuts off the conversation saying it was a hypothetical, there was no need to get worked up about it. Yes, it’s easy not to get worked up about a hypothetical when it doesn’t affect you, Elena.
Now, to the part I truly hated: this book has one of the worst romantic relationships I’ve ever read.
The love interest in this book is Winifred “Freddie” Petrine: the girl Elena heals during the first chapter, the girl Elena had a crush on for years (without actually knowing her), the girl who spends 70% of the book having angry outbursts and being rude to everyone around her.
You see, Freddie has depression. Here’s the thing:
- depression does not make you a bad person
- depression is, therefore, not an excuse to be a bad person
- if you didn’t go out of your way to be rude to people when you were not depressed, you won’t do it while you have depression
- if you do, that’s not your depression, you’re just a shitty person
It’s not just that Freddie is rude, which would be understandable as she’s going through a lot. If Freddie didn’t want to talk to Elena because she had depression, a “leave me alone” would have been enough, but no. Freddie constantly goes out of her way to be rude to Elena. She tells Elena she’s worthless. She apologizes a few pages later, but in a few lines she’s telling her that no one will ever care about her. She apologizes, then starts insulting Elena because she had a crush on her. She apologizes a few pages later, then blames Elena for her own bullying because, according to Freddie, Elena wanted to be bullied (authors: your audience is teenagers. Many of them are being bullied. Don’t make anyone say this unless you address it immediately. This is victim blaming, and I don’t care about the depression card). Then Freddie apologized, kissed Elena, but two lines later tried to convince Elena to perform a miracle for her; when Elena refuses, Freddie starts insulting her again.
It’s not that she got angry once and apologized. No, she got angry, she apologized, then had a mood swing and did it again, apologized, and then did it again, and then apologized – you get it. If your relationships (not only the romantic ones) ever look like this, do not walk away, run. It’s a toxic situation, and likely also emotional abuse.
Even when the other person doesn’t mean to (but honestly, can you be this rude to someone without meaning to? She meant to), it’s still toxic for you.
Also, in one of those arguments Freddie deadnames a trans character, who exists in the book only to get deadnamed. …why? Casual representation is great, but this is not the way to do it!
Freddie is the only flat character and had no other traits apart from being rude and making Elena think by being rude. I have no idea why Elena liked her, after she realized Freddie was not the idealized girl she had a crush on.
Elena does say that she likes her because “she never gives up no matter what she goes through“, which I found really funny – I think Freddie had given up on being a decent, not emotionally manipulative person a long time ago.
My rating: ★★★★