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1 September 2021 THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM by Holly Goldberg Sloan, Dial, March 2021, 256p., ISBN: 978-0-7352-2994-5


“If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now

It’s just a spring clean for the May queen”

-- Jimmy Page and Robert Plant (1971)


“An old school bus, painted purple and green, motored into the lot behind the trucks. The bus was followed by two dented passenger vans, three SUVs, and five packed pickup trucks.

Behind the counter, Margo could be heard grumbling, ‘Prepare for an invasion.’

Sila was no longer fixated on her hot chocolate or cream-filled donut. She stared out the window. The rain was coming down hard as the doors to the vehicles opened and people started to spill out. Lots of people. Gio caught Sila’s eye. ‘This could be interesting.’

They weren’t disappointed. The new arrivals were a lively bunch, dressed in bright clothing, with imaginative hairstyles, arms of tattoos, and rattling metal jewelry. A disproportionate number of the crowd wore hats and carried overflowing shoulder bags. Six poodles, dyed purple and pink, came out of one of the vans. In several minutes more than fifty people were waiting to use the donut shop bathroom. Those who didn’t take a place in the crooked line headed to the glass counter and eyed the pastry with real enthusiasm. The group was loud. They talked and horsed around in a way that Sila decided meant many of them had to be related. It wasn’t long before they were moving chairs, sitting in clusters, or standing to argue, while eating donuts and gulping coffee.

Sila was eager to know more about the group when a man close to Gio’s age, with tangled long curls of silver hair, came over and pointed to an empty chair. He asked, ‘Anyone sitting here?’ Gio responded, ‘It’s reserved for you.’

The man lowered himself down with obvious relief onto the red cushion of the metal chair. Sila tried not to eyeball the guy, but it was impossible. The newly arrived traveler had silver rings on all of his fingers, even his thumbs. He wore an orange scarf around his neck, a green army jacket, and faded striped pants, which were tucked into old yellow rain boots.

Sila wanted to say something and was grateful when Gio did it for her by asking, ‘Where’s your group headed?’

The man took a big bite of his cinnamon twist and answered with his mouth full: ‘Nowhere. Real fast.’ The man swallowed. ‘Just finished our last booking.’

Sila stared back out the window at the vehicles. She read the faded words painted on the side of one of the trucks: THE BRIOT FAMILY CIRCUS.”


Sila Tekin is a tween born in Oregon. Her parents Alp and Oya, who have lived in Eugene for a decade and a half, are Turkish citizens who are legally in America with visas. But suddenly facing the threat of deportation because of a legal paperwork issue, Sila’s mother departs for Turkey on an eight-day mission to remedy the problem. Eight months later, she’s still there dealing with a morass of Turkish bureaucracy. Back in Oregon, Sila is miserable because of missing her mother and also because Sila fears that she is personally responsible for the series of events that led to her mother’s absence.


Then, when Sila accompanies her auto mechanic father on a drive out to the country to repair an old pickup, the owner of the vehicle turns out to be Gio Gardino. Gio is the widower of Sila’s late, beloved second-grade teacher. Gio was recently part of a pool of work friends who split the state’s largest-ever lottery payout. Now well-off and retired, Gio has purchased a big chunk of land that is bordered by large stone walls. It’s the perfect new home for an elephant--an elephant named Veda who is in need of a new home now that the down-and-out Briot Circus is packing it in.


This all leads to the relationships that develop between Sila and the elephant, Sila and Gio, and Sila and a boy on the spectrum with whom Sila has been classmates since kindergarten. Comedic, dramatic and enlightening, THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM is a moving and powerful read. The story touches on women’s rights issues and animal cruelty issues in a manner that will make a big impression on young readers. The tale is also (literally) full of elephant poop, and astute readers will recognize how elephants in the wild can inadvertently play an oversized role in their ecosystems. 


For me, THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM was one of those read-it-in-one-gulp stories. It made me smile, and the parallel happy endings moved me to tears of joy. 


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Pickshttp://richiespicks.pbworks.com






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