Elixir by Hilary Duff, despite what it looks like, is a co-written book. The co-author is Elise Allen. This isn’t entirely uncommon for books written by celebrities, as Lauren Conrad’s books are also co-written.
That said, what began as a great premise falls apart about 2/3 of the way through the novel, suffering from the classic downfall of many books: too much tell and not enough show.
Clea is the daughter of a well-known politician and a world famous surgeon. Her mother travels the world for her job, but her father — the surgeon — disappeared. Since then, Clea’s life has been under even more scrutiny and security, as no one wants her to disappear in the same mysterious manner as her father. Prior to his disappearance, her father had appointed Ben to be a sort of care taker for Clea. Although she doesn’t need a babysitter nor a housekeeper (she already has one!), he’s there to help her navigate the difficult lifestyle of one born to the well-known. Along with Ben is Rayna, Clea’s best friend. They are inseparable since her mother and Clea’s mother are also tight. Makes sense.
One of Clea’s favorite hobbies is photography: her father got her interested in photojournalism, and she’s always found passion in capturing images of people, of things, of stories. While going through photos one night, though, Clea discovers something bizarre: there is a man who has appeared in the background of every photo she’s taken. A little sleuthing through old photos shows that this same man has appeared in the photos that her father has taken, as well as the photo of the day she and Rayna were brought home from the hospital. Was he a creeper or was he another layer of security?
Elixir sets up an exciting mysterious premise, and Clea herself is quite a likable and sympathetic character. Although she’s clearly privileged, she is still somewhat sheltered and naive. When an opportunity arises to complete a photojournalism assignment in South America, Clea jumps at the chance, despite what Ben believes will be serious objections from her mother. But oh, he’d be wrong: mom was okay with Clea jet-setting down yonder, where she inevitably will meet the mystery man in all of those photos face to face. Oh, and not only will she meet him, she may unravel the secrets to the strange dreams she’s been having over and over, wherein she plays the roles of many different women in time and oh, she might also figure out what happened to her dad. And she might just take a trip to Tokyo. Just maybe.
Hilary Duff’s novel had me quite captivated for a while, but when the suspense begins to really build, the novel falls apart. Pacing is pretty much non-existent, as we are introduced to Clea for a long time, but we are left hanging when it comes to the development of the mystery man (whose name at this point is Sage) and the timing of events doesn’t quite work well. Likewise, the number of different elements pulled together to build the suspense are too many, and we are left with a bit of a mess when it comes to why things are happening or how Clea could possibly be privy to the information she receives.
I didn’t find Sage worthwhile, and he was the mystery man. He wasn’t built strongly enough for me as a reader, and I thought Clea was far too trusting of him from the beginning. Let’s be honest: who meets a random man in South America, brings him back home to their house under a pseudonym, then hops a jet for a quick trip to a Tokyo hotel without once rousing the suspicions of their mother? And what made her so sure he knew what was going on with her father? There were too many threads and not enough knots here to pull through.
Finally, I had a difficult time even following what happened to her father and the Elixir of Life. Duff’s book builds from the mystery that Clea’s father has discovered the Elixir of Life, which allows people to live multiple lives. Kind of, I think. It sounded like the Fountain of Youth to me, but somehow, it lets people live different lives in different places. Having this Elixir got some people mad, and they’re who ultimately were onto Clea’s father. And Sage was on Clea’s father’s side here, but because the last 2/3 of the book relies so heavily on explaining a complicated backstory, it’s never clear to me who I am supposed to be rooting for as a reader. I know this is the first book in a series, but being that I was introduced to one character and her best friend for so long, then dropped amid a complicated back story, I’m not compelled to pick up further volumes.
I wish the backstory about the Elixir were better developed from the beginning, with less emphasis on Clea’s mother, her friend Rayna, or how dumb she was about the massive crush Ben had on her. Ben’s a stock character here, but just as Clea is clueless about how to use him in her life, so is the story. It’s disappointing, since I think he could have added a lot to it. Oh, and Clea ends up sleeping with Sage at one point, even though he had made her really frustrated. That was another relationship that just needed more oomph to work for me.
Elixir will work, however, for fans of Lisa McMann’s Wake trilogy: although it’s not as well fleshed, the dream elements, the idea of the incubus, and the mystery will appeal to these readers. When I initially began reading this title, I thought it would work for fans of Joanna Philbin’s The Daughters series, given the “child of celebrities” angle, but I think those who are interested in that aspect of her series might be a bit disappointed when this unravels.
Although the name alone will sell this book, I think it will disappoint many of its readers. With the abundance of strongly written mysteries with a paranormal and supernatural element to them, Elixir’s weak pacing and many strings of moments where one needs to suspend logic won’t match others on the shelf. I wish this were edited a little more tightly and took the opportunity to delete some of the elements that weren’t necessary and beef up the character relationships a little stronger that did matter. Likewise, less telling and more showing, particularly when it comes to the history of the Elixir of Life, could have sustained the momentum just a bit more.
*Review copy received from Simon & Schuster. Thanks!
Kelly Jensen is a former librarian turned editor for Book Riot. She's the author of IT HAPPENS: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader and the forthcoming Feminism For The Real World (Algonquin Young Readers, Spring 2017).