Lily’s schizophrenic mother almost threw her off a roof when she was 7.
The Oregon senior’s only confidant, Sawyer, is a wealthy, closeted gay boy who knows of her 12-Year Plan to live a quiet, substance-free life until age 30 to help prevent the onset of mental illness. After Lily writes an article for her newspaper internship about an elephant calf rejected by her mother, the Kenyan zoo director, Dr. Addie Tinibu, enlists her help. The Florida circus that owns its father claims the elephant, and Addie and Lily reluctantly accompany the baby to help acclimatize her. The pachyderm becomes a celebrity when Lily’s articles are reprinted nationally. During an intense week, she falls in love with a boy who has his own issues and explores similarities between her childhood and the elephant’s. Others help in her noble cross-country attempt to find an elephant sanctuary, but these connections often seem forced. Lily’s knowledge of how schizophrenia affects different people will help readers realize that it is not a monolithic condition. Animal welfare issues are well-integrated, and scenes involving elephant care are realistic but repetitious. Many instances of animal and human abuse weigh the novel down, and a hopeful outcome is painfully slow in arriving. Lily and Sawyer are white.
The topic of animal conservation almost overwhelms the emphasis on mental health, but Lily’s path is worth exploring. (author’s note, resources) (Fiction. 14-18)