Hi Book Lovers!
Time for another review.
When Elephants Fly
By Nancy Richardson Fischer
Release Date: September 4th, 2018 by Harlequin Teen
Pages: 400 pages
Rating: ★★★★☆ (4.5/5)
Genre: YA Contemporary
To start, I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Secondly, there are a few potential triggers for anyone tirelessly working through mental health challenges: abuse, suicide, and schizophrenia.
Lily Decker is a high school senior with a twelve-year plan: avoid stress, drugs, alcohol and boyfriends, and take regular psych quizzes administered by her best friend, Sawyer, to make sure she’s not developing schizophrenia. Genetics are not on Lily’s side.
When she was seven, her mother, who had paranoid schizophrenia, tried to kill her. And a secret has revealed that Lily’s odds are even worse than she thought. Still, there’s a chance to avoid triggering the mental health condition, if Lily can live a careful life from ages eighteen to thirty, when schizophrenia most commonly manifests.
But when a newspaper internship results in Lily witnessing a mother elephant try to kill her three-week-old calf, Swifty, Lily can’t abandon the story or the calf. With Swifty in danger of dying from grief, Lily must choose whether to risk everything, including her sanity and a first love, on a desperate road trip to save the calf’s life, perhaps finding her own version of freedom along the way.
“Crazy is genetic. It’s the house I was born inside. There are no windows, just two locked doors. One door leads to Normal, the other to Insanity. At some point, I will inherit a key, but I don’t get to pick which door it unlocks. Even if I did, there’s no guarantee I’d understand the choice, or realize where I was when I got there.”
“I hold my breath, frozen like a soldier who has stepped on a land mine. But no matter what I do, eventually it’s going to blow me up.”
“I had the urge to tell her that there’s a relief when you no longer have to prove to the most important person in your life that you’re worthy.”
“The one certainty in life is that it changes.”
“It’s impossible to bend crazy to your will. It wins, hands down.”
This book hooked me from the beginning and I soon found myself unable to complete any real-life tasks to continue reading Lily’s story. Lily comes from a genetic line predisposed to schizophrenia. After almost losing her own life due to her mother succumbing to her own delusions, Lily grows up hoping to beat the odds of something she cannot see coming. She has a long-term plan of no stress (or fun of any kind) in order to come out, hopefully, free of the same mental illness that’s been plaguing the woman in her family for several generations.
However, Lily begins volunteering, and eventually writing small stories for the local newspaper in her town. Her story on the local zoo preparing for a new elephant calf, soon named Swifty, leads her on an unexpected journey after Swifty’s mother tries to kill her shortly after birth.
Lily is quite the character. She’s slightly infuriating. She’s slightly too calm and laid back. She’s slightly avoiding truly living life. Yet, I couldn’t stop thinking about how fearful I would be if I were her knowing that there was a strong possibility I would find myself drowning in a sea of mental illness that I couldn’t avoid. While I do not struggle from schizophrenia nor personally know anyone who does, my heart ached to see the way this illness can suck the life of anyone it goes after. To hope for a life you are pretty sure will not play out as you’d hope would probably make me just as cautious and anxious as Lily was for most of this story.
Her best friend, Sawyer, was a wonderful character, although this idea he was ridiculously rich wasn’t something I bought into for the majority of the story. Sawyer also harbors secrets of his own and it becomes clear in understanding the superbly adorable to the friendship Lily and Sawyer have created over their own internal struggles through the years.
This story also had another hot topic in it for me: elephants. I’ve read several stories about elephants in the past that discuss their depth of emotion and how they typically act in the wild. Sometimes those ideas are hard to listen to and this story does touch on several instances of animal abuse which were hard to stomach through for myself. Still, the elephant’s stories are just as important here and only added to the tugging on my heart.
I enjoyed almost everything about this story: the mental health representation which I do not think we see nearly enough in YA (or any other genre), the elephants, the friendship, but most importantly the decision between living your life or letting your life control you. Is it better to take risks that might not let you live as yourself as long as you’d like? Or is it better to play it safe and hope to peacefully ride out the waves without creating any yourself?
There were only a few pieces of the story I did not enjoy as much: Lily just up and leaving out of the blue for a story, her selfishness during some of Sawyer’s personal problems arising, and her initial carelessness at how her life affected other people’s (such as Swifty). Lastly, the odd way the story ended wasn’t necessarily bad, but it kept taking odd turns I wasn’t expecting and with people I wasn’t expecting. Also, without saying what it is, the final piece of Lily’s puzzle at the end really tore me apart for a few days after finishing. I non-stop thought about mental health and how I choose to live my life, even without the battles Lily faces.
I’d highly recommend this story to just about everyone: it isn’t a perfect, happy story, but it is something that should be thought and talked about more often.
- Has anyone else read this book?
- What were your thoughts on this story?
- What did you think of the mental health topic in this book?