by Lynne Kelly
This middle-grade book is about a boy and a young elephant, both working for the cruel owner of a dilapidated circus in India. The boy, Hastin, is desperate for a job to pay off a medical bill when his sister falls ill. He gets talked into working as an elephant keeper, but when he arrives in the jungle, nothing is as he\’d expected. The circus is in ruins, the elephant has yet to be caught, and his employer keeps adding additional tasks to his job description. When they do catch a young elephant, Hastin immediately feels sympathy for the animal and guilty for his part in separating her from her family. He tries to care for her, but all the while secretly wants to set her free.
Unfortunately, while I liked this book at the start, I began to loose interest about halfway through. I\’m just not the right target audience anymore (feel like I\’ve said this before) and it takes a certain kind of writing style to keep my attention in a book aimed at younger readers. It\’s a good story, but a lot of it just felt flat to me. Even though the characters weren\’t quite all black-and-white. The trainer, while overworking the elephant and using cruel practices to teach her tricks, showed that he had a measure of kindness in his heart as well. The elderly man who worked as cook in the camp, proved himself to be a wealth of knowledge about elephants and was a mentor to Hastin. But he has a dark past as well. The owner, appearing kind and enthusiastic when he first met Hastin, soon proves himself to be a strict taskmaster, never paying Hastin and always adding more time onto his service until it seems the boy will never be free of what has become intolerable work conditions.
I finished the book, wanting to know what happened, but even though events escalated I didn\’t care enough about the characters anymore, and found myself skimming the last few chapters. I do think kids interested in elephants or India would like this book, and I appreciated how it taught quite a bit about different areas of the country, cultural practices and religious beliefs throughout the story. There\’s also a lot of description about elephants, mostly in the form of things Hastin observes or learns from the old man. And of course, there is the pervasive theme of captivity- both the now-illegal practices of catching wild elephants and training them to perform, and child labor.
Rating: 2/5 248 pages, 2012
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