Athol Daily News – Book Review: “The Elephant in the Room”

“The Elephant in the Room”, by Holly Goldberg Sloan, is a beautifully told blend of friendship and family separation, animal welfare, immigration, gender equality and autism. It might seem like a ridiculously complex list of ingredients, but the different threads are woven into an almost perfect story, in which the elephant is not just a metaphor but a living, living character.

Sila Tekin is a Turkish-American girl born and raised in Oregon, and the book begins with the sudden departure of her mother, Oya, to Turkey in order to resolve an issue with her immigration status. The trip is supposed to last a week, but the week turns into months, and we learn that Oya is caught in a bureaucracy that has recently been made much more complex and hostile. Sila loves her father, Alp, but “she missed her mom so much that even her skin didn’t look right.”

Sila’s father was a university-trained mechanical engineer in Turkey, but now earns a living as an auto mechanic. One weekend, he’s called in to repair an old pickup truck belonging to an old man, Gio, which has an unusual history. A year earlier, Gio was part of a labor union that won a record-breaking lottery of millions of euros and he has now bought a huge gap in the country, in memory of his late wife, where he lives an existence. lonely and lonely.

Sila and Gio hit it off, not least because they both love animals in general, and elephants in particular. Then, by a strange coincidence, Gio has the opportunity to purchase a circus elephant named Veda and, on an impulse made possible by his considerable wealth, he does so.

In doing so, Gio frees Veda from a life of chains and cages, and unleashes her on his vast grounds. He soon discovers, however, that caring for an elephant takes a lot of resources – which he has – and a lot of work, which he cannot do without help.

Meanwhile, the separation from her mother has made Sila very withdrawn at school, and in an effort to help her, the administration asks her to meet a boy named Mateo on a daily basis, isolated from the general school community. by autism. After a few awkward and silent meetings, Sila impulsively invites Mateo to visit Gio and Veda, and this turns out to be the key to opening a friendship between the four of them. After a few visits, Mateo and Sila sign up for a summer vacation internship with Veda.

Veda is in her element. She moves freely across the country, and although she is not exactly safe, or even tame, she and the children form an attachment. Moreover, although they cannot communicate it, Sila and Veda have in common that they miss their mother.

As Sila and Mateo’s friendship grows, Mateo’s mother learns about Oya’s immigration difficulties. She also learns that, shortly before these happened, Oya was fired from her job as a hotel maid because she wondered why she was paid less than the men doing the same job. In turn, Sila’s father finds out that Mateo’s mother, Rosa, is a lawyer, whose colleague offers to help sort out the family’s immigration issues for free. Best of all, Rosa herself is an employment law attorney, and she quietly looks into the events surrounding Oya’s dismissal.

Sila and Mateo gradually take on more responsibility for caring for the elephants and become a vital part of Gio’s life, both practically and emotionally. We find that his late wife was the children’s much-loved second-grade teacher, which creates another bond between them.

“The Elephant in the Room” is a touching, but never sentimental, story in which animal and human welfare are intertwined, so that the solution to a person’s (or an elephant’s) problems is part of the story. of the very satisfactory resolution of all their difficulties. .

The review of this book is a reminder that it is a perfect read aloud for grades 5-6, who should also be able to read it on their own. The holidays are almost here, and that would be a welcome gift.

The village school is in Royalston.

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