Monday, July 25, 2022

Happy Book Birthday, The Elephant Girl by James Patterson and Ellen Banda-Aaku


by James Patterson &
Ellen Banda-Aaku
with Sophia Krevoy
Jimmy Patterson
Middle Grade Contemporary
272 pages

James Patterson and award-winning author Ellen Banda-Aaku deliver an unforgettable story of a girl, an elephant, and their life-changing friendship. 
Clever, sensitive Jama likes elephants better than people. While her classmates gossip—especially about the new boy, Leku—twelve-year-old Jama takes refuge at the watering hole outside her village. There she befriends a baby elephant she names Mbegu, Swahili for seed. 
When Mbegu’s mother, frightened by poachers, stampedes, Jama and Mgebu are blamed for two deaths—one elephant and one human. Now Leku, whose mysterious and imposing father is head ranger at the conservancy, may be their only lifeline.    
Inspired by true events, The Elephant Girl is a moving exploration of the bonds between creatures and the power of belonging.



The love for elephants mixes with natural scenes and the determination of a young girl to draw in with heart and a tad bit of tension.

Twelve-year-old Jama has bigger dreams than the rest of the people in her village...not that she knows exactly what they are. No one except her family members seems to understand her. Her happy spot is watching the elephants at the watering hole, and after time, they seem to like her, too. When she runs across some dark secrets about the local head ranger of the conservancy, she's not sure what to do, but even that turns into a small problem when her own mother is trampled to death by the creatures she most loves, and the village declares revenge.

Except for the end, can I just say I really enjoyed this read? I'm not usually a fan of more serious, dramatic tales with obvious messages, but this one grabbed in the first pages and held me the entire way through. More surprising, it wasn't so much the action (yep, I'm an action girl at heart) but Jama as a character. It's rare that a character drives me through a read and even rarer that I want to now incorporate this one into the reading list for my homeschooled daughter. (I think this is, actually, a first).

This tale flows naturally and introduces Jama with familiarity as it peeks at life in an African village. The town barely has electricity, the villagers are in their own worlds, and it should feel exotic...but it with all of this, there's still enough sense of 'usual' that readers can sink right in. Details and scenes introduce a little of the daily life while keeping it more as a background setting. Because it's Jama and her desire to discover herself, which takes the stage. Even her connection with the elephants isn't over-the-top but gentle and realistic, making it easy to connect to and understand.

There's quite a bit of drama going on around Jama and not the cliche bullying a reader might suspect. She does have some problems with her peers, but this flashes by just enough to make the reader understand letting the entire atmosphere of the village, elders, and life filter in. Her supportive family and her independence make sure the bullying doesn't over-power the main journey of self-discovery. Plus, despite her inability to conform, it's not even a state she pursues. Yet, she's not confident as insecurity and hesitation make her likable and easy to root for. It's a refreshing and healthy mix.

Something is always happening, creating a very nice pacing most of the way through. While there are tense scenes, these never hit a level, which is too much even for the more sensitive end of the age group. I did find that it could have been more, actually. There's a death, which didn't seem as important to Jama as it should have, and the ending promised tension, which never came, as if glazed over. But then, as said above, the entire ending felt dumped in quickly as if to simply round things off. And yet, I still found this read, in general, very good and will close my eyes for the last bit.

I do recommend this one highly (obviously) and am glad I took the journey with Jama.

And here he is...

James Patterson is the world’s bestselling author, best known for his many enduring fictional characters and series, including Alex Cross, the Women’s Murder Club, Michael Bennett, Maximum RideMiddle SchoolI Funny, and Jacky Ha-Ha. Patterson’s writing career is characterized by a single mission: to prove to everyone, from children to adults, that there is no such thing as a person who “doesn’t like to read,” only people who haven’t found the right book. He’s given over a million books to schoolkids and over forty million dollars to support education, and endowed over five thousand college scholarships for teachers. He writes full-time and lives in Florida with his family.

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