By Ekta R. Garg
June 3, 2020
Genre: Children’s books
Release date: May 19, 2020
Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars
A young girl has a special relationship with an animal and discovers it may know about her past. As she follows clues, she and her human best friend will run into ghosts and artifacts from yesteryear, all while trying to evade adults who think they know better. Debut author Celesta Rimington pours her heart and all of her elephant research in the mostly likable novel The Elephant’s Girl.
Lexington Willow, or Lex, has always lived at the zoo. At least the always she can remember. She knows she was found in the elephant enclosure of the Lexington Zoo after the biggest tornado in the town of Lexington, Nevada, in 40 years. She knows she loves Nyah, the elephant that protected her during the tornado. She knows Roger, her guardian and the zoo’s train engineer, will do anything for her. She even knows the wind talks to her, teasing and tricking her and making trouble. She just wishes she knew a little more about who she was before she woke up next to Nyah.
She’s not even completely sure how old she is, although she and Roger have figured it’s close to 12 now. That’s how old her best friend, Fisher, is, and she likes being the same age as him. Like her, Fisher lives at the zoo although he lives there with his family. His father is the chief zookeeper, and his mom is homeschooling Lex.
Now it’s summer, and Lex and Fisher finally have permission to start elephant training. Lex tries to spend as much time with Nyah as possible, but with all the rules about kids and animals it’s hard to get close. After her training, she’ll be able to be with Nyah whenever she wants. On her first day, though, Lex has a weird experience. She sees a vision, and when she looks at Nyah she realizes it’s actually a memory the elephant is sharing with her.
The memory brings up all the questions about Lex’s identity that she thought she’d made peace with. Now that Nyah has shown her things, Lex wants answers. She’s just not sure how to get them, and the wind isn’t helping any with its taunts. And lately, even though Fisher has always supported her, he seems distracted with summer baseball camp and new friends.
Nyah’s visions lead Lex to meeting a ghost living on the outskirts of the zoo and clues within the zoo itself. Through her search, she’ll learn how to navigate her fears about leaving her unusual home and how to follow her instincts. Most of all, she’ll learn that home isn’t about the place you live; it’s about the people you love.
Debut author Celesta Rimington shares in her author’s note the time and effort she spent researching the complex societal patterns of elephants, and it shows. Nyah and the other elephants in the zoo are described in rich detail, and the nuanced communication Nyah has with Lex could only have come after a careful study of elephant communications in real life.
Target readers will enjoy Lex and Fisher’s friendship. They’re upfront with one another when they disagree yet don’t disrespect one another. Although the entire book is from Lex’s point of view, Rimington does an excellent job of showing Fisher’s discomfort in trying to balance his relationship with Lex and new friendships on the baseball field. Lex is confused about how to approach this side of Fisher’s life that has nothing to do with her, and Rimington’s depiction of Lex’s emotions is spot on.
If the book can be faulted anywhere, it’s in the rushed beginning. Just as readers might be settling into the idea that Lex was found after a tornado and grew up in the zoo, she receives her first vision from Nyah and begins processing all the uncertainty the vision brings. It might take readers a while to catch up to the hurried pace. There’s just so much of the story to tell that the opening pages aren’t as fully developed as the rest of the book.
Also missing are more scenes between Nyah and Lex. The young protagonist talks a lot about her connection to the elephant, yet she spends a great deal of the book with Fisher and trying to figure out the mystery of her past. Readers might wish more time had been spent on showcasing Lex’s time with the creature that saved her life.
Still, for readers who enjoy books about relationships between animals and children, this one is a good pick for summer reading. I recommend readers Borrow The Elephant’s Girl.