When Elephants Fly


T. Lillian Decker (Tiger Lily Decker) is an 18-year-old high school senior whose schizophrenic mother almost kills her at the age of seven by insisting she can fly off a roof. The mother goes to prison for attempted murder and later commits suicide. Turns out there is a history of insanity in Lily’s maternal line, so she and her father are now on a careful watch to see if she will suffer from it.

Lily herself has done a lot of research on schizophrenia. Realizing there is a likelihood of it appearing in her between the ages of 18 to 30, she constructs a twelve-year plan to minimize any triggers that might be controllable, stress being one of them. In connection with this, she plans to go to a low-key community college in her neighborhood instead of one of the more high-flying schools her classmates plan to attend. She has a best friend, Sawyer, the gorgeous school hunk who is secretly gay and who is fighting serious relationship problems with his own parents. They provide great support to each other, although she sometimes selfishly takes him for granted.

Lily has an unpaid internship at the local newspaper, writing up routine stories, helping with reporters’ research, fetching coffee, etc. In a follow-up to a story about the local zoo and its elephant breeding program, Lily institutes a name-the-new-baby-elephant contest that proves to be popular and lucrative for the zoo. When she goes to present a check to the zoo administration, she finds herself swept up into the actual calf’s birth. So begins a very interesting, involved, and suspenseful story. The mama elephant rejects her baby, the circus providing the mate for the mama elephant wants to claim the rejected calf for its entertainment program, the baby elephant languishes and faces death due to grief and failure-to-thrive, and a race is on to save baby Swifty (named after popular singer Swift Jones).  All this is wildly upsetting to the careful regimen Lily and her father had planned for the next 12 years of her life. The ending is promising but not guaranteed, for both Swifty and Lily.

This would be a good book for parents and teenagers concerned about mental illness. Information is carefully presented which is neither fatalistically damning nor unrealistically optimistic. The author thoughtfully observes and represents difficulties family members have in responding to relatives who are mentally ill, as well as the anxieties of those facing illness themselves. The book tilts toward the positive, observing that all human beings must learn and fight to construct meaningful lives despite imperfect conditions.

As you will see from the photo of colored tabs above, there is bad language, child sexual abuse, violence, homosexuality, references to man-on-man porn, and some descriptive teenage sex. The porn/sex descriptions seem unnecessarily explicit to the plot. Some situations in the book do not ring true, such as a broadcast interview during which Lily’s classmates discuss her history in gossipy great length without being cut off. Another curious thing occurs when the female zoo administrator and Lily travel to the circus to help with Swifty’s care. There they are repeatedly subjected to handsy touching by differing types of male workers. The administrator handles this non-verbally but Lily seems to submit. Seems like the author may have dropped whatever point she started to make with this.

This book is best suited for older readers. It would make a great little movie.

A personal complaint from me: This creative work is complete and successful in itself but unfortunately is followed by several pages of thank-you’s and THEN an additional Author’s Note, all of which DILUTE the impact of the work itself. When writers do this it removes readers from the intact, powerful world that has been created and plunges them back again into mundane reality. Please don’t do this, folks.

Categories: Addiction, Body Acceptance, Books We Recommend, Bullying, Controversial YA Topics, Diversity, Dysfunctional Relationships, LGBTQIA, Mental Health, Offensive Language in YA Literature, Parent Conflict, Peer Relationships, Science, Violence

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