A middle-grade friendship and family story plays out against a circus backdrop.
Twelve-year-old Lily Pruitt’s mother left her and her father to rejoin the circus as a trapeze artist, and the white girl’s beloved grandfather performs with an elephant, Gracie. Grandpa Bill and Gracie’s close relationship is broken when Grandpa Bill dies suddenly. Lily, who lives with her father and is terrified of the elephant, travels alone to Florida to attend the funeral and lend comfort to her grandmother. Upon arriving, Lily quickly learns that elephants experience grief and begins to feel sympathy for the creature. The only person who doesn’t seem affected is Lily’s emotionally distant mother, who has a creepy new boyfriend. When Gracie the elephant begins to act out, the other circus folks think that Gracie should be sent away for good, including the boyfriend, a cardboard cutout of a villain (he even smokes to prove it). With Gracie’s fate up in the air, Lily and her new pal Henry Jack, a young circus boy with the skin disease ichthyosis, plot to save Gracie from exile. Lily and Gracie narrate in alternating chapters, offering the elephant’s perspective on the unfolding drama. This sentimental, comfortingly predictable story stands out due to its spotlight on the plight of circus elephants. Given the subject matter, it shouldn’t be surprising that scenes of abuse erupt, but they make the overall narrative feel off balance.
Interesting but uneven. (Fiction. 8-12)