Thursday, April 11, 2013

Chained, by Lynne Kelly

2012 must have been the year of the MG animal story. Though some of the books were fantasy, some realistic, and some a mix of both, I found every one I picked up to be engrossing. Chained is no different, especially if you have a soft spot for elephants. While I must say that cats are my animal of choice, this book sold me on its cover alone.

Hastin is a boy who lives in a desert region in India with his mother and younger sister. Chanda, the girl, has been bitten by fever mosquitoes, and when her illness becomes desperate they take her to the hospital even though they cannot afford it. They learn her treatment will cost 4000 rupees, money they do not have, so Amma (mother) goes to work as a housekeeper in appalling conditions to earn the sum. But wait! There suddenly appears a man named Timir, who pays the debt for them. There's a catch, of course. Timir once owned a prosperous circus, and he dreams of returning to his glory days. He needs an elephant keeper, and asserts that Hastin can do the job. Besides, this is going to be a grand adventure, and when Hastin has worked for Timir for a year to pay the man back, he may return home. The truth, as we might guess, is that Timir has no intention of ever letting Hastin go. But the more immediate problem is that Timir has no elephant. He expects Hastin to trap one in the jungle.

This, he does, with the help of men who dig a pit large enough for a young elephant to fall into and not get out of. Hastin is drawn to the elephants from the beginning, even giving them names as he spies on a herd going to the river for water. When one of his favorites, Nandita, falls into the trap, he's so conflicted that he tries to set her free before the circus men find out. But, though Hastin and Nandita come to love each other in Timir's ragtag circus, both are chained: Nandita literally, and Hastin figuratively, to the debt, and even more so, to what Timir intends as permanent slavery. It will be a long time before either of them is free again.

All these characters, save Timir, are immediately lovable. There are two other important characters also. Sharad, the elephant trainer, has a "good past," but it's buried under a ton of pain and he has become a rigid, mean trainer as a result. And Ne Min, the circus cook, is a wise, grandfatherly type who obviously loves elephants but is hiding some secret shame.

This is a wonderful debut novel. Characters, prose, structure, action, research -- all are excellent.  Highly recommended.

24 comments:

Bish Denham said...

I know I'd love to read this one!

Marcia said...

Bish -- Yes, I can see you loving it. I added the cover, BTW. When I was writing the post, Blogger was in one of it's "can't post pictures" moods.

Mirka Breen said...

Very good review, Marcia. It's in my to-read pile.

Barbara Watson said...

Elephants are beautiful creatures. I'm looking forward to reading this one.

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

This sounds amazing and heart-breaking. Even the cover hits hard. I'll be reading this one thanks to your wonderful review.

Marcia said...

Mirka -- Glad you found it helpful!

Barbara -- My mom has always loved elephants and collects figurines. I do get the appeal.

Cynthia -- I had the same reaction to the cover. I like other book covers, of course, but if I had to name a book whose cover absolutely sold me on the book, it might be this one.

Ruth Schiffmann said...

I have been wanting to read this one for a long time, Marcia. Thanks for the reminder.

middle grade ninja said...

Sounds like a great one. Thanks for the review!

Marcia said...

You're welcome, ninja! :)

Vijaya said...

This has been on my TBR pile forever ... thanks for spotlighting it. I have a certain girl with a birthday coming up ...

Marcia said...

Vijaya -- Oooh, sounds like just the thing for her. Er, you. No, her! :)

Kelly Hashway said...

I saw this one all over the place last year. I haven't read it yet though.

Marcia said...

Kelly -- I think it got lots of word-of-mouth, which I'm glad to see.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

The cover made me tear up. I already sense I'll be bawling if I read the book.

Great review as always, Marcia.

Marcia said...

Stina -- The cover did that to me, too. I'm not sure when I've ever seen a more effective cover.

Christina Farley said...

I've been dying to read this book! Thanks for the heads up.

Marcia said...

Christina -- I'm sure you won't be disappointed. :)

C. Lee McKenzie said...

I've seen this book before and it does look like one I'll read. Thanks for reminding me.

Medeia Sharif said...

This is on my wish list. I'd love to read this.

Kim Van Sickler said...

Sounds like an emotional read and Timir, a man we'll love to hate. In some respects it reminds me of an NPR news story I heard yesterday about rice growers continuing to grow rice in chemically-polluted fields because they have no other way to support their family. They know better than to eat the rice, though. They sell it to other villages. One family sold nearly everything they own to pay for chemotherapy for their oldest son when he was diagnosed with cancer, but he died and now they've got no money to even take their youngest son, now showing the same symptoms, to the doctor. It's all so heartbreaking.

Marcia said...

Lee and Medeia -- Enjoy!

Kim -- Such a sad story. I know a Vietnam vet who said he swore off rice after seeing how it's grown and has never again eaten it.

Leandra Wallace said...

I want to read it just b/c of the cover! And maybe b/c I went to the circus last weekend and saw elephants there... Amazing creatures!

Akoss said...

I've heard about this book on twitter. What a lovely review. You made it a must read for me now.
Thank you!

Marcia said...

Leandra -- I know, I can't get over the cover. And anybody with a soft spot for elephants is going to fall doubly hard.

Akoss -- Hope you love it. :)