Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Review: Small as an Elephant

I ended up checking out Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Jacobson because it came up when I searched for Acadia National Park books in our local library's catalog. I checked it out based on the curious title alone.

As I started reading, (yes, actually reading, versus say listening) I realized I'd picked up yet another 'kids book.' This continued the trend I'd started back at the beginning of the summer with Flying Lessons, followed by Pax. And like Pax I quickly realized that I was in for a surprisingly heavy journey. In fact, if you had told me that I'd find a more difficult to read young fiction book than Pax I'd say that you were crazy. And yet in many respects, Small as an Elephant is even more challenging.

While Pax dealt with difficult issues of loss, it had a certain other worldy quality to it. The story was taking place in some future or alternative universe. We can relate to the story, but we have a bit of shielding. Not so with Jacobson's text. Here we find a young boy who is confronted by the very real, and very difficult challenges of mental illness, neglect and how far one can go to keep a family together. The book may be about a 10 year old, and has a bit of a Hatchet feel to it, as our young hero cleverly solves problems and survives. Yet, ultimately, these serious themes are the central focus.

Thankfully, I found the story a bit more straightforward than Pax and couldn't help but enjoy its simpler and more pleasing ending. This would be a challenging book for a kid; heck it's a challenging book for anyone. At the same time, there's a huge opportunity for learning about topics that we're often mum about and could be an important tool for helping individuals understand and cope with difficult family situations.

As a foster parent, I did feel a special sort of connection to the book. I could see a number of best practices we're taught on display, as well as the appreciation that what I was reading wasn't all that far fetched. At the same time, the book didn't give a lot of love to the foster care system, making it yet another stressor in the main character's struggle. I don't blame the author for this. If she's striving to make a realistic character, then it would make sense that a ten year old kid would have his view of foster care shaped by TV and movies. And if there's one thing you can depend on, it's TV and movies showing foster care and foster parents as evil.

I seriously need to lighten up my reading list. At the same time, I've got huge respect for authors like Jacobson who write stories that don't just entertain us, but help us grow.

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