I just finished reading this great MG/YA book. I don’t know if it was a big deal when it came out or not. It was published in 2000 and seems to have won some praise but I don’t remember it from anything. It was just one of those books on my bookshelf that I’d never read…
It takes place in the past (post world war II I read somewhere) and features a young protagonist, Harold, who is an albino. He has faced a lot of bullying in his hometown and the bulk of the story takes place with him training elephants after running away with the circus.
First of all, I really enjoyed the writing. So much of today’s literature in this genre relies on the short, choppy first person present tense style that I can’t stand. I aspire to write as well as this. Heavy sigh. Look at this:
The house was small and tidy, with scrolls of woodwork above the doors and windows. It looked like an overgrown birdhouse, a square little building with only one room. Water poured from the roof in a dreary black gurgling, into barrels that overflowed. But if a house could be cheerful, this one was. It seemed as safe and inviting as the Liberty church.
The farmer’s wife was big and husky. Her face was brown and smoothly lumped, like a potato fresh from the ground. The farmer had prepared her well; she smiled at her visitors as though circus freaks called every day at her tumbledown home on the prairie.
I also thought it dealt really well with important topics such as how we treat people who are different from us, bullying, abandoning friend groups, self-esteem and authenticity. We see Harold go through many changes, both good and bad. At one point, nearer the beginning of the book, his new fortune-teller friend challenges him with this line: “If you think that you are less than them, can you blame them for thinking they are better?”
The book is also really fun in places involving the elephants, especially when Harold succeeds in teaching them to play baseball.
I will be keeping this one.
(A word of caution, there are several other books with the same title, so make sure you look for the right one if you’re interested in reading it. Author Iain Lawrence.)