Can a friendship born in mutual bondage save a boy and an elephant calf in modern India?
When 10-year-old Hastin’s sister Chanda contracts a fever, their mother must take a job in the city with an abusive employer to pay the doctors. In hopes of freeing her from her obligations, Hastin looks for a job for himself. He lucks into a position as an elephant keeper at a faltering circus owned by the seemingly friendly businessman Timir, who hopes to bring the enterprise back to life. The job, in a jungle far from home, turns out to be more indentured servitude than employment. After a time, it is only Hastin’s love and pity for his charge, 2-year-old Nandita, that keeps him from running away on his own. With the guidance of kindly, old Burmese cook Ne Min, Hastin plots to save Nandita from Timir and his cruel elephant trainer, Sharad. Kelly’s fine debut brings the jungles of India to life. She skillfully traces the development of Hastin’s relationships with Nandita and Ne Min while carefully building the boy’s character as he comes of age. Readers may become frustrated that Hastin passes up several opportunities to escape with his elephant friend, but the touching finale will all but make up for that. The cruelty toward both humans and animals is honestly conveyed.
A heartfelt if at times emotionally trying addition to the literature promoting better treatment of our fellow animals. (afterword) (Fiction. 9-12)