244p. Farrar/Margaret Ferguson. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-374-31237-4; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-0-374-31250-3.
Gr 4–6—Ten-year-old Hastin lives in rural India in a thatched-roof mud hut with his widowed mother, Parvati, and younger sister, Chanda. When Chanda falls ill and is hospitalized in the city, Parvati must borrow money to pay for the expenses, and young Hastin determines to repay that loan by securing work as an elephant caretaker. His new employer, Timir, is a mean-tempered taskmaster who transports the boy to a distant jungle and orders him to catch an elephant for his future circus. While Hastin hates the idea of trapping one, he becomes more troubled once Nandita, the chained animal, is brought to the circus grounds. In spite of his loving care of her, the trainer stabs her with a sharp hook to teach her tricks. The one person Hastin trusts is Ne Min, Timir's Burmese cook, who befriends him and seems to have much knowledge of the ways of elephants. He supports Hastin with food, medicine, and sage advice on caring for Nandita. When Timir justly suspects the boy of trying to run away, he penalizes him by lengthening his term of employment. Then Nadita is put in leg shackles, making hope of escape more remote, but Hastin soon proves he is brave enough to defend his own freedom and that of his beloved elephant. With a well-knit plot, vivid setting, and tightening web of suspense, this novel is both an affecting animal story and a well-paced adventure.—Susan W. Hunter, Riverside Middle School, Springfield, VT
Ten-year-old Hastin must endure the cruelty of his employer, a circus owner. Kelly crafts a layered, convincing tale of interspecies friendship as Hastin comes to understand his charge, Nandita, an elephant calf. A kind older man proves an ally in Hastin's quest to protect Nandita, but it is the bond between boy and elephant that will stick in readers' minds.
When ten-year-old Hastin first sees the elephant calf in the jungle, playfully tussling with another member of the herd, he names her Nandita, Hindi for "joyful," because she "always looks like she is smiling." Yet watching her is a bittersweet pleasure for Hastin, as his employer Timir, a northern India circus owner, has set a trap with the goal of catching an elephant -- Nandita, inevitably -- to train as a performer. First novelist Kelly crafts a layered, convincing tale of interspecies friendship between individuals who care for each other within the confines of enslavement. Hastin, having left his family and village to work as an elephant keeper, is supposedly earning money to pay for his younger sister's hospital stay. But Timir docks his wages so often he despairs of ever saving enough to settle the bill. Though Hastin isn't literally chained like Nandita, his family's poverty leaves him no choice but to endure Timir's cruelty. Each chapter opens with a relevant quote from a (made-up) book about elephant behavior -- e.g., "Elephants communicate in ways we cannot hear" -- that sets the stage for the action and shows Hastin's deepening understanding of his charge. A kind older man who also works for Timir proves an ally in Hastin's quest to protect, and eventually free, Nandita; but it is the bond between boy and elephant that will stick in readers' minds. christine m. heppermann

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