The Elephant’s Girl by Celesta Rimington has swept me off of my feet. I read the full novel within twenty-four hours of reading the first word. It is magical and wonderful and quite definitely in the top five books I’ve read this year.
Yes, technically it’s target audience is middle grade, but I can guarantee you I will be recommending this book to adults and kids alike.
Lexington has lived at the Lexington Zoo for the last seven years, after a tornado dropped her into the elephant enclosure and the young elephant Nyah sheltered her from the storm. Though Lexington was found, her family was not. However, the man who found her with the elephants became her foster father and has given her a beautiful life in a remarkable place. Due to zoo rules and big important guidelines, Lex hasn’t gotten to spend any time in close proximity with the elephant that saved her life. But all of that, and the rest of her world, changes when twelve year old Lex finally gets close to Nyah. Nyah sets her on an adventure that will lead to a misplaced spirit, a mysterious missing treasure, and quite possibly the answers to the questions Lex has spent her life asking. Who is she? Where did she come from?
What is it that makes Rimington’s book so spectacular? It’s a rare combination of beautiful but accessibly prose, quirky lovable characters, a breathtaking setting, realistic dialog, and that delicate balance of magical realism with heart that strikes just the right note. There’s a great balance between the magical elements and the real elements, such as the wind that talks to our protagonist and the annoying real guidelines set forth for zoos and aquariums by the AZA accreditors. These limitations give the characters the motivation and obstacles necessary to make the story exquisitely engaging. I didn’t want to put it down, and I’m an adult!
I think this book will make an excellent read for a great variety of readers. From elephant and animal aficionados to baseball fans to foster and adoptive kids and their families, this book can find an audience in any room. I think reluctant readers will get drawn in to the mystery, and the unique zoo setting will set imaginations of all sizes wandering in the best of ways.
The elephant plot lines , even the magical bits, is all grounded in science. Rimington does a fabulous job of setting her magical world within the confines of possibility. All of Nyah’s behaviors are inspired by research which is presented at the end of the novel, with citations on where to find further information. I can’t overstate how much I love this; it will encourage further reading into factual matters and encourage imagination as well. I love that each piece of magical realism is grounded and inspired by a real behavior. The messaging about friendship, family, fostering/adopting, and villainizing is spot on. We frequently want there to be a villain, but what we really find is someone who needs help growing. Have I said how much I love this book?!
The other magical realism elements include the wind speaking to Lex and a ‘misplaced spirit’, AKA a ghost. I love the wind talking to her and the relationship she has with it, and how it has shaped her life. We all allow outside influence into our minds, and can only overcome it in the same way Lex tackles hers. The ghost is especially interesting, as I am not a fan of ghost novels or anything of the sort. I don’t do scary! Yet never once was I frightened in this book. This ghost is not scary at all, and never puts our protagonist in danger. It’s a refreshing and new look at an old topic, and I found it only enhanced the story.
I can’t recommend this book strongly enough, for young readers and adults alike. It’s beautifully written and has a story worth sharing. I’m grateful to Net Galley for giving me an advanced copy to review. I’m officially obsessed with this book and this author, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.
The Elephant’s Girl publishes 19 May 2020.