I started listening to Elite with a preconceived idea of where the plot would go. I was expecting something paranormal. True, the synopsis didn’t come right out and tell me the book would be full of vampires and shapeshifters, but something in its wording gave me that idea. Imagine my surprise when the book took a totally unexpected turn.
Trace Rooks has lived a simple life with her grandparents on a Wyoming ranch. She remembers very little of her life with her parents, who died when Trace was only six. Her grandparents are all she has. Now that her grandmother has died, Trace wants to do something to secure her future and that of her aging grandfather. She knows he can’t be a farmer forever. She learns that Eagle Elite, a fictional and very exclusive university, is holding its annual scholarship lottery. Not really expecting much, Trace enters, and is shocked when she wins.
The book opens as Trace arrives at Elite. She’s surprised by its splendor, but even more surprised by her fellow students. Sure, she knows almost all of them are the sons and daughters of world leaders, but their cruelty is unlike anything she could have imagined. Why do they hate her so much, and, if hatred is indeed what they feel, why do they go out of their way to stay close to her?
Nixon is the leader of a very special group known as the Elect. What he says goes, and no one questions him. He has worked hard for his place of power. Everyone, students and teachers alike, respects and fears him. Now that Trace is in the picture, Nixon knows he has to protect her. This way of thinking really got to me, since Nixon’s way of protecting Trace is extremely cruel. It’s bullying taken to extremes. He swears there are good reasons for his actions, but nothing could justify his behavior.
Trace tries hard to avoid the Elect. She is aware that she should not speak to, look at, or touch them, but there’s something about Nixon that makes her want to rebel. She doesn’t understand his great dislike for her, and she’s determined not to let him break her. I admired her spunk. I couldn’t have made it through everything the Elect put Trace through without giving in and running away. Apparently, Trace is a stronger person than I could ever hope to be. She’s witty and sarcastic, and, in spite of Nixon’s best efforts, she’s aware of her own worth.
Narrator Sarah Franco is someone I’d never listened to before picking up Elite. Her performance here is pretty average. She is quite good at character differentiation, although she deepens her voice a little too much when depicting male characters, especially Nixon. Unfortunately, this is a problem several female narrators have. I was hoping Ms. Franco would not fall into this trap, but it soon became obvious that depicting masculinity was not her strong suit.
Nixon comes across as a goofy guy who wants to appear sinister. This doesn’t fit the character Ms. Van Dyken created at all. The Nixon the author put on paper is the embodiment of dangerous. It’s not something he wants people to think. They actually do believe it.
Chase, Nixon’s best friend, and one of Trace’s few champions, is given a less absurd sound, but Ms. Franco lowered her pitch greatly, reminding me a bit of a record playing at a slow speed. If you envision that pitch, but add in an appropriate rate of speech, you’ll have an approximation of Chase. He’s a likable guy, even if I did wish he was more capable of standing up for Trace. He’s good at damage control, and his feelings for Trace are plain to see. He just isn’t the knight in shining armor I wanted Trace to find.
I was quite impressed with Ms. Franco’s depiction of older men. Trace’s grandfather, for example, is given a gruff, yet quavery sound which denotes his age quite well. One of Nixon’s uncles speaks with an accent, and, for some reason, Ms. Franco didn’t find it necessary to speak in an overly deep voice for either of these characters. It was quite a refreshing change.
Ms. Franco does a much better job with the female characters. Trace’s roommate sounds pert and bubbly, while Trace herself is given a more mature, down-to-earth sound. Ms. Franco perfectly captures Trace’s sarcasm and dry sense of humor, bringing Trace to life in a way she doesn’t manage to do with anyone else.
I was also quite pleased with Ms. Franco’s use of accents. She does a very believable Italian accent, and the characters who come from New York City sound incredibly authentic.
If you asked me whether or not I liked Elite, I wouldn’t be able to give you a straight answer. The story was engaging. I was anxious to find out the secrets held by the Elect. However, when the big reveal came, it didn’t quite live up to the hype the author created. I expected something bigger, something that would justify Nixon’s horrible behavior. Sadly, while the secret is interesting, it wasn’t something I could fully get behind.
It’s also important to note the inconsistencies in Ms. Van Dyken’s writing. There were times I felt like I was listening to a young adult book, and then, it would totally switch gears, giving graphic descriptions of torture. Even the romance angle has a YA feel to it. By the end of the book, we still aren’t sure who Trace is supposed to end up with. My personal vote goes to Chase, despite the strange rhyming nature of their names. However, it could go either way. Elect, Book 2, might hold the answers to that question, as well as a few others that are left unanswered.
Breakdown of Grade – Narration: C and Book Content: C+
Unabridged. Length – 7 hours 39 minutes