We Bought a Zoo meets Jurassic Park in a gripping story set in an elephant sanctuary, featuring the perennial appeal of human-animal friendships.
Samantha (Sam) lives at the elephant sanctuary her dad runs and views the elephants there as much a part of her family as her single dad is. When a beloved elephant dies in childbirth, Sam develops a special connection with the baby, named Woolly because she has an unusual amount of hair. It soon becomes apparent that Woolly is . . . different. Woolly’s mother was part of a special breeding project, and Woolly’s DNA is not elephant but that of a rare specimen — a woolly mammoth — procured by the eccentric billionaire genius who runs the program. He will stop at nothing to protect Woolly, his multi-million-dollar investment, even if it means turning Sam and her dad’s world upside-down. An astonishing fact-based look at elephant behaviour and an endearing girl-elephant friendship.
As my boys and I continue our exploration of the books nominated for the MYRCA award (Manitoba Young Readers Choice Award) we have completed our fourth novel, Elephant Secret by Eric Walters. This is Walters’ 100th published book.
Elephant Secret was a good story and cleanly written. A bit too clean maybe, Walters’ over use of the word “said” (he said, she said, they all said said said) is distracting. As writers, we are taught that “said” is somewhat invisible, readers tend not to notice it and other tags are to be avoided. This is true. However, the overuse of a word also becomes distracting and the way we eliminate the use of tags is to attach dialogue to a character’s actions. Thus it becomes obvious who is speaking. (I wrote a blog post about this very topic here.) Maybe with Walters’ books, when read in your head, the word “said” disappears, but when read out loud, it becomes a repetitive annoyance.
My other issue with the book is it’s an elephant behavioural info-dump. The front of the book is so loaded with facts about elephants that it reads more like a text book. There are so many ways to sprinkle that information throughout the story without having the main character spell it out so blatantly. I was bored.
So, did I like anything about this book? Yes. I did like the character development, each character had his/her own unique voice and stayed true to their character throughout the story. The relationship development between main character, 14 year old Sam and, Joyce, Sam’s father’s new girlfriend, was well done with Sam going from [spoiler] not really liking the idea of a girlfriend to eventually learning to accept her.
The story overall is a good one, well plotted.
The stars of the story are, of course, the elephant herd and newborn, Woolly. Despite the book being front loaded with elephant info, the development of each elephant’s individual personalities created a heart-warming layer to the book. And I do have a personal soft spot for these amazing gigantic creatures.
From the point of view of my 10 and 12 year-old boys, both have picked this story as one of their favourite MYRCA books so far (the other top contender for their vote is Coop the Great by Larry Verstraete [my review here]).
Despite my distractions with this story, I do recommend this book. Any tween who loves animals will enjoy reading this, and there’s enough action to keep the story moving at a good pace.
This is an unsolicited review, I purchased this copy through Amazon.
- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Puffin Canada (Aug. 27 2019)
- ISBN-13: 978-0735262836