Welcome back to Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers…the place to be when the need to read comes a callin’ and you simply CAN’T say no.
A quick reminder and a HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY to a book I’m working my way through now (off and on), Seal Team Six Outcasts by Howard E. Wasdin and Stephen Templin hits store shelves today…and you still have a chance to win a copy ALL YOUR OWN through midnight tonight! Don’t miss out. Just click on over to the contest post, tell me why you want to read this exciting new book and BAM, you’re in to win! Spread the word and you gain even MORE chances. Sound good? Well then what ARE you waiting for? Oh, the rest of this post. Gotcha. Good reader….awfully kind of you. ^_^
Yesterday those of us stateside celebrated Memorial Day; a day to honor all those men and women who have, are and will fight for the freedoms we hold dear…and yet, not everyone is lucky enough to have someone fighting for them. Some have to choose their battles wisely in the hopes of making it through just ONE more day both for themselves and those they cherish. WARNING dear readers…you will need a box of tissues for parts of this one, especially if you love animals, but the conclusion is well worth the journey. Today’s book of choice is…
From the publisher…
After ten-year-old Hastin’s family borrows money to pay for his sister’s hospital bill, he leaves his village in northern
to take a job as an elephant keeper and work off the debt. He thinks it will be an adventure, but he isn’t prepared for the cruel circus owner. The crowds that come to the circus see a lively animal who plays soccer and balances on milk bottles, but Hastin sees Nandita, a sweet elephant and his best friend, who is chained when she’s not performing and hurt with a hook until she learns tricks perfectly. Hastin protects Nandita as best as he can, knowing that the only way they will both survive is if he can find a way for them to escape. India
This story just about broke my heart (several times over) and surprised me from the start. If you are one of those readers that believe a Children’s Fiction title can’t hold strong emotions, this one will prove you wrong. Upon opening the book, we enter a world few are exposed to with such clarity without having actually stepped foot on their soil.
; a land of mystery and cultural differences that present a stark contrast to the sensibilities of many Westerners but with a beauty all its own. We catch a glimpse of their beliefs and social structures along with their ongoing battle to preserve not only their way of life but the sanctions put in place to protect those unable to protect themselves….but I digress. This tale belongs to Hastin as well as Nandita…but we’ll meet her in a moment. India
Hastin is a young lad of ten years living with his mother and sister in a village nondescript amongst the others in the area. What it lacks in technology and advancements, it gains in familial connections and love. The tight knit nature of the community shows when things get rough, but Hastin is a proud little fellow and doesn’t want the pity of neighbors or their helping hand; he wants to solve the problems on his own. You see, his sister Chanda becomes gravely ill and the medical care required to even attempt to save her life is costly. Unable to sit back idly and watch her expire, his mother enters into a deal with an affluent man from a nearby town…trading her freedom for her daughter’s life. She won’t be a slave in so much as the word, but for all intents and purposes, she might as well be.
Hastin visits, sees the conditions and is beside himself, vowing to find a way to aid in releasing his mother from her agreement and paying the debt; such strong emotions for such a little boy. Flash forward to a chance encounter with a “business” man looking for a strapping lad such as himself for a life of adventure…well paid adventure, or so he says…and you’ve got your yellow brick road. In fact, not only will his work pay off the debt to the penny, he’ll gain some valuable skills and get to work with animals he never dreamed of. All of life’s a stage and the circus is a three ring wonder waiting to happen…but not here and not in this arena.
The man behind this start up circus has been here before…and been shut down for reasons too unsavory for me to reveal. Now Hastin has the best of intentions and despite the fact that the wool has been pulled over his eyes, he intends to inflict no harm upon the animals in his care…I wish has much could be said about the others souls (or perhaps soulless is the better term) in this outfit. I’ll spare you the details as you’ll get a brief enough, yet still too much, glimpse upon reading this story, but suffice it to say this part is where some of those tissues come in. The trapping, chaining, and training of the little elephant now in their grasp, known by those who care (and believe it or not there is another soul that does within the circus) as Nandita…or Joyful.
She was named for the smile she shared when playing with her family as they traversed the forest on their daily travels for food, water, and a place to rest. Unfortunately, within the fencing of her new home, that smile of impish youth is one of the first things to go. Hastin cares for her, both body and spirit, but it’s not enough. She wasn’t meant to be confined to a circular plot, poked and prodded to do tricks like a puppet on a string; she was meant to be free….much like another young soul trapped by circumstance. Recognizing themselves in each other, Hastin and Nandita form a bond stronger than the harsh world surrounding them; both spiritual (seek out more on Ganesh to discover that aspect) and at the heart. There are only two ways out for this duo because where one goes, the other will follow…and if Hastin has anything to say about it, it won’t be lying down.
The story is beautifully crafted and rich in details. From the lushness of the forest to the barrenness of the hot lands, it’s not hard to conjure a picture within your mind’s eye; the emotional tug of war it plays on your heart though is the real jewel. No matter the place you call home or the religious affiliations you identify with, the struggle to survive as seen here is common ground. The desire to be free and see those less able than we achieve that same freedom is a shared goal. Hastin may be a young boy but he has so much heart. It brings tears to the eyes as we watch the struggles he goes through trying to keep his family together even though he is kept apart. The sheer fact that he could name the little elephant Nandita…Joyful…despite all he was already going through was a miracle in and of itself. It’s amazing the resilience of youth, yes…but it’s the humanity he shows when he is not shown the same that reveals his true character. Speaking of Nandita…
I’m an animal lover (in case you didn’t already know…^_^) so I was curious to see how Nandita’s part of the story would be relayed. I mean, this is more contemporary children’s fiction as opposed to fantasy so I knew we wouldn’t be hearing directly from her but at the same time, her voice was captured so well…we do. Her actions or lack thereof, her reactions to the hardships presented to her as well as the love shown by Hastin, her overall demeanor as well as those quiet moments of reflection…they all shine back like the many facets of a diamond revealing her true form piece by piece.
One of the many touching scenes occurs when Hastin is whittling in the shed…I mean “room” they call home. His father was a great carver and he fancies himself carrying on the tradition one day and so he begins practicing by carving a little statue of home, something to remove obstacles….Ganesh. His first attempt, a bit lopsided and out of proportion but Nandita likes it and promptly makes it her own; wrapping her trunk around it and holding it close like a child would a teddy bear. That short scene provided such a big window into the character of not only her but Hastin all while making you grin at the sheer curiosity (okay, cuteness) of it all; you’re heart was theirs for the taking already, but that scene just clinched it (well, for me anyway). But these two, despite being the “stars of the show”, are not the only noteworthy characters…there is but one more outside this conglomeration of dark souls that deserves mention; Ne Min.
Ne Min is a wise old man that serves many a function at this run down circus. From cook to confidant, healer to helper, he wears many hats and wears them all quite well. When Hastin first arrives at the circus, he is the only one that shows him any kindness, the only one to offer pointers when needed, and the only one that still seems to have the heart to care. Nandita’s presence awakens another side of Ne Min, relighting the fire in his eyes and the wonder in his soul. He knows A LOT of the care and keeping of elephants, so much in fact that Hastin begins to wonder how a cook obtained such skills. I mean a jack of all trades is great, but even they have a stopping point of which Ne Min shows none.
With a life well lived, comes secrets…sometimes those secrets are too much to bear yet despite everything we do to bury them, they eventually find the light of day….so the same can be said of Ne Min’s past. Though not as dark as one might assume considering the company he keeps and with a fair amount of misplaced blame, his connection to the circus as well as his choice to remain with them for so long becomes clear giving you a new found respect for the old man even as he faces his greatest journey of all. Once again it speaks to the author’s ability to capture the emotion of a moment so well that you can place yourself beside the characters, feel their every breath, share in their tears, and rejoice in their well deserved peace.
In short (which is ironic since this review ran long…sorry!), a moving story of fictional hardships steeped in a reality that is still being fought to this day. You’ll marvel at the country and the unexpected riches. You’ll feel for Hastin, Nandita and Ne Min as they struggle to do what’s right by all involved despite the same not being done for them. You’ll stand up and shout at the atrocities that befall both man and beast and join in the celebrations both big and small all the more when they present themselves. It’s a book of many colors for many readers that can connect you with a culture across the miles without ever leaving your favorite reading nook. Would I recommend it? You bet…to middle grade readers and beyond. As I said, there are hardships, some certainly tear worthy, but as the descriptions and events only go so far, I believe this one would do well still for the younger crowd in not just the story, but in raising awareness. Something to think about….
ARC for review courtesy of Ksenia at MacMillan Children’s Publishing Group. (THANKS!) For more information on this title as well as their complete catalog, feel free to visit them online, like them on Facebook or follow along on Twitter. To learn more about first time author Lynne Kelly, connect with her at her official site, check out her blog, like her on Facebook or follow on Twitter. This book was released earlier this month from Margaret Ferguson Books / Farrar Straus Giroux (an imprint of MacMillan) and should be available on a bookstore shelf near you.
Until next time…happy reading!