CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 41 . . . . June 22, 2018
Sam may be your average teenage girl, but her family is far from average. Sam, her father Jack, and the herd of elephants on the sanctuary they run are a close-knit family unit. Sam prefers her elephant family over humans as elephants show levels of intelligence and empathy she doesn't see in humans, in particular lawyers, including Joyce, the preservation's lawyer and Jack's girlfriend. Elephants have been accepted into the herd over the years, but Sam can't see how Joyce could ever be a real member of their family.
Sam and Jack would do anything necessary to ensure their four-legged family members have what they need. Opening the sanctuary to the public helps cover costs, but it's still financially tough. When Jack is approached by an investor willing to give them a large sum of money on the condition that three of their elephants are impregnated, they feel it's a fair request. They desperately need the money to keep the sanctuary afloat, and these funds would allow them to do additional good work, but even Joyce couldn't anticipate the question they should have asked: with what would the elephants be impregnated? They never would have guessed what was to take place on their sanctuary.
It's not until one of their elephants dies giving birth and their donor, James 'Jimmy' Mercury, lands his helicopter that Sam and Jack fully understand Jimmy's generous donation. The baby elephant that they named Woolly because of his strange fur isn't an elephant at all. Jimmy was determined to bring the woolly mammoth back from extinction, and his first successful attempt stands in front on them at Sam and Jack's sanctuary.
Sam and Jack's awe quickly turn to anger as they feel deceived by Jimmy Mercury. Sam's fury at Jimmy increases when Jimmy demands the removal from the sanctuary of the most recent arrival, Burma, who had been damaged by years of abuse. Sam and Jack refuse to move Burma, insisting that the only danger to anyone at the sanctuary was Jimmy, himself. When Jack refuses to remove Burma, Jimmy moves Woolly off the preservation, something he believes is necessary to protect the baby mammoth. Jimmy quickly realizes he should have listened to Sam's warning about the dangers of moving the young mammoth as Woolly's life is endangered most by being away from her human/pachyderm family. Jimmy and Sam both learn important lessons about trusting outsiders and the importance of family.
Because of Sam's having lost her mother, her fighting to keep her father's new girlfriend/preservation attorney at a distance, and demonstrating how strong she is in standing up to Jimmy Mercury, it would be difficult for readers not to feel and cheer for Sam. With everything she is dealing with, it's easy to understand why she prefers elephants. She needs Joyce in order to protect the elephants, but Sam worries if she accepts Joyce as 'one of the herd', Joyce might try to fill her mother's shoes. Readers will easily relate to the bonding that happens when Sam and Joyce go shopping for a school dance, and the struggle Sam experiences in wanting to like Joyce while also protecting herself. With her life complicated further by elephants, a mammoth, and Jimmy Mercury, it takes time, but Sam comes to see that it's not only elephants that can love unconditionally.
Addressing what it's like to lose a parent, the difficult feelings that can come up for children when a parent begins dating after the loss of their partner, animal abuse, and the ethics of scientific advancement, Walters seamlessly weaves a number of important issues and questions together in Elephant Secret without the content feeling forced. With an introduction to animal rights and cloning in Elephant Secret, there is also lots for readers to think and talk about, and interesting material for teachers to build into lessons. Engaging, suspenseful, and educational, Elephant Secret will leave readers satisfied, yet full of questions.
A MEd (Literacy) and MLIS graduate, Crystal Sutherland is the librarian at the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women and lives in Halifax, NS.
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