Wednesday, June 14, 2017

One Amazing Elephant by Linda Oatman High

Lily Pruitt, 12 almost 13 and already over 5 feet 7 inches tall and an asthmatic, has been living with her father in the Magic Mountain Campground in West Virginia. Her mother, Trullia Lee Pruitt, left them a number of years ago to return to the circus and her trapeze act. Lily’s grandparents are part of a small traveling circus, he is 7 feet tall and has an act called The Amazing Queen and her Best Friend Bill the Giant. Queenie Grace is a 9 foot 3 inch tall, 58 year old elephant, but has only been owned by Bill for 28 years. Before that, Queenie was owned by people who treated her cruelly.   And Bill is married to Violet, 4 feet 9 inches, who has an act of her own.

Lily has always been afraid of Queenie Grace, much to her grandfather’s unhappiness. More than anything, he would like them to get along. When Grandpa Bill dies suddenly, Lily travels to Gibtown, Florida, where the circus stays when not traveling, for his funeral. Over the course of time she is there, she meets a boy, Henry Jack, who is part of the circus, billed as the Alligator Boy because of a skin condition he was born with. She also meets her chain-smoking mother’s boyfriend, Mike, also a smoker. who dislikes Queen Grace and wants to get rid of her as quickly as possible. Until then, he puts her in chains, even though in Gibtown, animals are chained or caged, and then burns her with a cigarette. 

Slowly, and with the help of Henry Jack, Lily begins to overcome her fear of Queenie Grace, and even to feel rather protective of her. In fact, Henry Jack helps Lily overcome a lot of her fears and find strength within herself to try new things. In the end, Violet decides to send Queenie Grace to a elephant sanctuary, where there is a nice surprise awaiting her. And there is a nice surprise awaiting Lily in Gibtown, as well.

This was a well-written coming of age novel, alternately narrated by Lily and Queenie Grace, so readers get to see Lily’s transformation from both points of view. The descriptions are clear and easily envisioned; Trullia is distant to Lily, but not so distant that a mother-daughter reconciliation is impossible to imagine; Mike the smoker is just despicable; and Henry Jack is ultra sweet and kind. Lily, on the other hand, is unlikeable from the start. She seems to be consumed with self-pity which dissipates over the course of the story, but really goes on for too long to be a sympathetic character for me.

In the end, I really disliked this novel. I had so much trouble with the freak show element to it, and the idea that a 12 year-old boy would be put on display for having a skin disease that had killed his twin brother. But as Lily explains: “Not a lot of circuses still have ‘freak shows’ these days, but the Hass-Millard circus does.The ‘freaks’ are a big attraction for this little circus.”

The best part of the novel, for me, is when Queenie Grace discovers her surprise at the elephant sanctuary - keep tissues handy.

I was rather curious about Gibtown and found an article about it in The Guardian from 2015. It was written for adults, so I would be careful about sharing this with students, but it is informative.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an EARC received from Edelweiss Plus

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure I want to read this after reading your review, Alex. It's been on my list, but with recent events of the closing of the Barnum & Bailey Circus, I guess that this is part of our ugliest history. Interesting story that you shared. I'll look for that article!


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