The Elephant in the Room

The Elephant in the Room
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Release Date
March 02, 2021
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It's been almost a year since Sila's mother traveled halfway around the world to Turkey, hoping to secure the immigration paperwork that would allow her to return to her family in the United States.

The long separation is almost impossible for Sila to withstand. But things change when Sila accompanies her father (who is a mechanic) outside their Oregon town to fix a truck. There, behind an enormous stone wall, she meets a grandfatherly man who only months before won the state lottery. Their new alliance leads to the rescue of a circus elephant named Veda, and then to a friendship with an unusual boy named Mateo, proving that comfort and hope come in the most unlikely of places.

A moving story of family separation and the importance of the connection between animals and humans, this novel has the enormous heart and uplifting humor that readers have come to expect from the beloved author of Counting by 7s.

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Sila's family has been happy in Oregon, even though her father, who is a mechanical engineer, has to work as a mechanic, and her mother is a cleaner in a hotel. The parents left Turkey because of political prosecution. After her mother found out that the women where she worked made far less than the men, she was fired, and immigration services told her that her paperwork was not in order and that she would need to go back to Turkey to get the proper forms so that she didn't get deported. That was months ago, and Sila is struggling without her mother. She has disengaged from her friends, and just tries to help her father around the apartment to lessen his feeling of loss. When her father is called out to a farm to fix a truck, the two meet Gino. He was one of a group of workers who played the lottery and won, so he has moved to a vast property completely surrounded by a stone wall. His wife was Sila's second grade teacher, and died of cancer four years previously. The three feel a connection, and meet on the morning of Gino's birthday to have doughnuts. While there, circus members arrive. Gino buys the group doughnuts, and Sila is able to see a real live elephant. The circus is disbanding, and the wily owner sees an opportunity in Gino. Before we know it, Gino has bought the elephant, Veda, and much of its equipment. A grumpy bear is even thrown in as a lagniappe. After a rocky start (both animals have been cooped up and underfed), Gino sends the bear to a refuge and starts to make his farm more elephant friendly. Sila and her dad visit, and she is thrilled. Things are still rough at school, and Sila has been placed in a mentoring program, partnered with Mateo, who is on the autism spectrum. Mateo was very chatty until third grade, and is now very quiet. At first, the two just sit together and read, but when Gino invites Sila to bring a friend to see Veda, she invites Mateo. His mother is okay with it, but does send lunch with him. Mateo and Sila both enjoy seeing the elephant, and working with Gino, and soon have a plan for the summer which involves helping to care for the animal. When Mateo's mother, a lawyer, finds out about Sila's mother's problems, she offers to help. Will Sila be able to make things better for not only Veda, but Mateo, her mother, and herself?
Good Points
I do not ever want to have a bear! What a great description of what caring for these animals would be like. It was great that Sila was always interested in animals, and Gino was able to fulfill her wishes and also provide himself with a much needed sense of purpose. Dealing with the elephant poop is quite a challenge, and Sila and Mateo are up to it, with some help from workers that Gino hires. The details of immigration problems are explained in a way that middle grade readers can understand, and will hopefully make them more sympathetic to people who have run into difficulty. Sila's sadness is profound, but she still tries to find a way to go on. The scenes with the school personnel trying to set up her mentorship with Mateo are realistically awkward, and Mateo's mom is great. I needed a happy ending when I read this, and my students will also appreciate this.

It would be great to have books about immigration from #ownvoices authors, although Sloan has clearly done her research. These are so many gradations on the autism spectrum that this seemed realistic to me, but many people would rather see an #ownvoices story. I am fine with a well researched book by any type of author as long as the treatment is sympathetic.

I was immediately invested in Sila and Gino, and thought the realities of having an elephant were well portrayed. The story is very neatly plotted, and things work out a little TOO well, but considering the troubles we see in the world right now, I found it a huge relief to read an upbeat novel where everything ended happily. I can't think of too many books that deal with a wild animal sanctuary, although Eric Walters' Elephant Secret does at the beginning of the book.
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