After ten-year-old Hastin's family borrows money to pay for his sister's hospital bill, he leaves his village in northern India to take a job as an elephant keeper and work off the debt. He thinks it will be an adventure, but he isn't prepared for the cruel circus owner. The crowds that come to the circus see a lively animal who plays soccer and balances on milk bottles, but Hastin sees Nandita, a sweet elephant and his best friend, who is chained when she's not performing and hurt with a hook until she learns tricks perfectly. Hastin protects Nandita as best as he can, knowing that the only way they will both survive is if he can find a way for them to escape.
Gr 4-6--Ten-year-old Hastin lives in rural India in a thatched-roof mud hut with his widowed mother, Parvati, and younger sister, Chanda. When Chanda falls ill and is hospitalized in the city, Parvati must borrow money to pay for the expenses, and young Hastin determines to repay that loan by securing work as an elephant caretaker. His new employer, Timir, is a mean-tempered taskmaster who transports the boy to a distant jungle and orders him to catch an elephant for his future circus. While Hastin hates the idea of trapping one, he becomes more troubled once Nandita, the chained animal, is brought to the circus grounds. In spite of his loving care of her, the trainer stabs her with a sharp hook to teach her tricks. The one person Hastin trusts is Ne Min, Timir's Burmese cook, who befriends him and seems to have much knowledge of the ways of elephants. He supports Hastin with food, medicine, and sage advice on caring for Nandita. When Timir justly suspects the boy of trying to run away, he penalizes him by lengthening his term of employment. Then Nadita is put in leg shackles, making hope of escape more remote, but Hastin soon proves he is brave enough to defend his own freedom and that of his beloved elephant. With a well-knit plot, vivid setting, and tightening web of suspense, this novel is both an affecting animal story and a well-paced adventure.--Susan W. Hunter, Riverside Middle School, Springfield, VTCopyright 2012 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.
..".an affecting animal story and a well-paced adventure." —School Library Journal
"First novelist Kelly crafts a layered, convincing tale of interspecies friendship between individuals who care for each other within the confines of enslavement." —Horn Book
"A heartfelt...addition to the literature promoting better treatment of our fellow animals." —Kirkus
"Lynne Kelly has written a story that unwraps the heart and asks it to be brave, loyal, and above all, kind. Readers of all ages will worry for Hastin as he marks the wall that records his bondage to a cruel master, but they will ultimately celebrate his jubilant triumph. This story unwrapped my own heart." —Kathi Appelt, author of the Newbery Honor and New York Times bestseller The Underneath