Coexist, by Julia Crane, is the first book in a YA contemporary paranormal trilogy. It's a story told mainly through the POV of sixteen-year-old Keegan, the light elf heroine, although the story does show scenes from her brother Thaddeus, friends, and her Chosen (soul mate) Rourke.
The way Chosens work is that each elf has someone that's chosen for them when they're born (in a mysterious way that isn't explained), but they are not allowed to meet until they turn eighteen (it's also not explained who makes that rule). Once they're both eighteen, the Chosen bond flares to life, and they instantly fall in love and can sense each other from far away et cetera. At the beginning of the book, Keegan's learned Rourke's name, so every time she thinks about him, he feels it and can see of what she's doing. Of course, being a teenage girl that knows she has a perfect soul mate out there somewhere, she thinks about him a lot, so he's constantly being distracted by her and desperately wants to meet her, but knows he should wait until she turns eighteen.
Rourke is mature and a bit of an unwilling stalker, and Keegan is somewhat spoiled and shallow, but also fundamentally good and lively and sweet. I liked the way the author described the relationships between Keegan and her family and friends (OMG, a happy home life in a YA paranormal book!), as well as some of the opening scenes that established her character and environment. And the book has the ingredients for some really delicious romantic tension and character growth.
** Warning - I'm going to do big spoiler through all the rest of this review, so read at your own risk**
But pretty soon, Crane introduces an epic prophecy of a giant battle that will determine the which of the elves (light or dark) survives and which is exterminated. Now I like world-building and epic-ness and battle as much as the next person, but the way it played out in this book just didn't work for me.
For example, throughout the story, Keegan is told about all kinds of very important things, most of which are known to everyone but her (e.g. Dark elves can look in your eyes and read your mind! There's an epic prophecy! Your brother is the chosen one of the prophecy! Your father leads the army! The big battle is coming in a couple months! etc.) I had some trouble believing that she's so oblivious that she never catches on to anything until someone thinks its time to reveal the next tidbit. I rationalized it by thinking that she was self-centered in the unconscious way many teenagers are and so didn't notice things around her that she wasn't interested in. I didn't like her as much in this light, but I could talk myself into believing that this was part of her personality/intelligence/maturity level.
But I had more trouble believing that everyone thought it was a really good idea to keep her ignorant about so much. Crane has various reasons for hiding information. For example, she wasn't told about the prophecy because her family was being protective and wanted to give her more time to be a kid without worrying. But not all the reasons made sense to me, and since it happened so often, I had to either re-envision her character as progressively more and more clueless or stretch my suspension of disbelief.
Plus, Keegan continues to have revelation after revelation through the book, and she just accepts it with, at most, some momentary dismay. No lasting effect or maturation of her character. Which was disappointing. I felt it was a lost opportunity.
And there were aspects of the background that didn't make sense to me. For example, it seemed like most of her friends and a lot of her classmates are various types of supernatural creatures pretending to be human, and they all knew she was an elf, but she was clueless that they were anything but straight human. That's just a random mystery that's introduced but never explained. Are "humans" really rare in their world, but nobody realizes it because there are so many pretending to be human? Or is this a really special school that the supernaturals know to send their kids to? If so, then you'd think that her parents would have known it was teeming with supernaturals and just decided to keep Keegan in the dark about it for...I don't know. Kicks and grins, I guess.
And why is it a Catholic school? You'd think that wouldn't be the most obvious choice for magical pagans, you know? BTW, I came up with the assumption they're pagans because they mention honoring "gods" so, I'm assuming some sort of paganism, although that's not really elaborated upon either.
And how do all her friends know she's not human when she can't tell they aren't?
These questions aren't fundamental issues to the story, but it seemed like there were mysteries in the world-building like this everywhere in the book. If I have these sorts of questions in a story with an author I trust, I usually assume that the author has an overall plan, and I enjoy theorizing what the meaning of it is and how it's going to play out in some later part of the story. But since there were so many places where I couldn't make the pieces fit, I had big suspension of disbelief issues. It made the world feel very shallow.
A more fundamental issue for me deals with the magical bond between Rourke and Keegan. Late in the book, she briefly dies, and the bond goes away so that she can't feel Rourke anymore. She also forgets all the interaction she had with him in the last couple months (apparently her parents have the authority to change the Chosen bond rules and they allow them to meet up early after all). She was brought back to life by black magic, and there's supposed to be a downside to using it, so I inferred that the downside here was the losing of the bond and memories plus some ill-defined changes to her. (For example, she becomes a vegetarian now that her soul is darker, although the rest of her family eats meat just fine even with Chosens and no black magic, so I'm fuzzy on how that's related.)
She remembers wanting her Chosen and thinking about him, but not meeting him, and she isn't feeling the instant chemistry that she expected when they're supposed to meet (although she's still a year early for that). So the book ends with her obsessing a bit over another boy from her school. The sneak peek of the next book has her acting like she's getting a crush on a new boy at school and grudgingly trying to give Rourke a chance even though she's not terribly interested in him. It's not part of this book, but it really bothered me. It made me feel like the only thing she and Rourke had before was a magically-induced bond. And if that's the only thing that kept them together, then that means they weren't really such a great match after all. It invalidated the authenticity of their connection to me. Since the relationship between them was the strongest part of the book for me, I felt like it ruined the story even though I imagine he'll probably put enough effort into it to woo her back sometime in the next book or two.
But the biggest thing that bugged me was how Crane handled the big battle.
Apparently the elves used to get along once upon a time, but (as her parents explain to Keegan) at some point, for reasons no one can remember, they started fighting. By now the fighting has been going on so long that they can't stop. And so there's a prophecy that says they're going to meet in a big battle and the survival of the light elves will hinge on the outcome of the battle. Thaddeus gets a vision showing him exactly when and where the battle is going to happen, and it's a few months in advance. So Keegan's father, the leader of the armies, goes into prep mode and trains his troops hard and then, with the stellar advance warning, has them show up ONE DAY in advance to scout things out and get the camp set up. The dark elves apparently have seers, too, although not so powerful, because they also show up to fight, although their seers aren't as good so they show up to late to get the really good camping spot.
So I'm thinking, "Really? You arrive one day early?" I mean...I'm no military expert, but even I can think of some useful things to do with the time if I had perfect knowledge of exactly when and where everything would happen. They agreed a couple hundred years ago not to use guns or anything but they can still lay traps, set up earthworks, run through scenarios on the ground, etc. Or, you know, maybe call in some allies? It's implied that a the other creatures of light that show up are all friends of Keegan who overheard her thinking about the battle mentally and decided to help out. Maybe keeping to themselves is just a part of elven character? I'll just ignore the fact that if the fate of my race and family were on the line, and I had centuries of general warning and months of detailed warning, I'd totally cheat and use guns and try to make as many allies as possible. Maybe they're just more noble than me. Even the "dark" elves.
And even worse, they fight for days, with lots of warriors dying on both sides (and you have to imagine that's especially devastating since that leaves the warriors' Chosens insane with grief, right?), and it's resolved when the twelve-year-old seer basically walks into the tent of the dark elves and basically says "I'm a seer, and I can see that if we keep this up, both sides are going to die. Let's just call a truce." And the dark elf commander essentially says, "My son didn't want to fight either, but now he's dead, and I'm sad. I hate light elves, but I see your point. I'll trust your vision. Truce." Aaaand that's it. BTW, there was no vision, just the kids implying one. What a let down. And what implied idiocy on the parts of the entirety of both the races that they killed so many for so little and then ended it so simplistically. It made me feel like she wanted to make Keegan and Thaddeus act like believable 16 and 12 year olds, but she also wanted to make them seem smart and special, so she dumbed down the entire rest of the world to make it work. Gah.
This is a trilogy, so I looked at the ratings and reviews to see if maybe the things that bugged me about this book would be resolved in future ones, but it looks like the people who rated the next books liked them more than this one, but Keegan herself gets more spoiled and they spend a lot of time hanging out and shopping and doing teen-angsty stuff. So, I don't think I'll continue. I have much surpassed my shallow-immature threshold.
I get the impression that if you liked the first one, you'll really like the rest of the series. It's like this, but more so.