Tuesday, April 23, 2013
I am not good at reading sad stories. I cry every time I read Because of Winn-Dixie (by Kate DiCamillo) and A Single Shard (by Linda Sue Park) and Where the Red Fern Grows (by Wilson Rawls) and Charlotte's Web (by E.B. White) and many others. So, choosing to read a book I know will be sad is a huge decision. I checked out Lynne Kelly's novel Chained anyway. The cover illustration alone should have stopped me (a young boy leading a young elephant whose legs are bound in chains). But I am glad I read this tender book.
The story on a ten-year-old boy named Hastin who chooses to leave his desert home in India to serve as an elephant keeper in exchange for the payment of a debt. His sister needed hospitalization, and Hastin's commitment to Timir, the supposed circus owner, seemed to be the only way to fund the cost. The boy is soon befriended by the camp cook, Ne Min, who is also incredibly knowledgeable about elephants. Each chapter, in fact, begins with a fact about elephants that Ne Min teaches Hastin.
"An elephant separated from its herd will try to find its way back." p. 138
Though the boy does not want an elephant to be caught for the circus show, the inevitable occurs, and he names the young elephant Nandita, meaning Joyful. The two form a bond of trust and reliance, and despite the horrible things done to Nandita by the trainer, she remains faithful to Hastin. He does whatever a young boy could do to comfort her, even carving a Ganesh statue that the young elephant holds in her trunk during sleep. The way the author lets their story unfold and end is almost magical.
I love this passage, spoken by Hastin:
"My father used to tell me that sometimes we get help clearing obstacles from our path, and sometimes they are placed in our way. Later, when we are wiser and strong, we may look back and feel thankful for what we had to overcome. Will I ever be thankful for anything that has happened to me?" p. 185