Monday, November 12, 2018

When Elephants Fly - Nancy Richardson Fischer

Summary: There are some battles worth fighting even if it means losing yourself.

T. 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. (Summary and image from I was provided a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: There are a lot of steps you can take to prevent getting sick. Wash your hands. Eat well. Exercise. Get your flu shot. Sadly, the answer isn't as clear when you're talking about schizophrenia. T. Lily Decker is bound and determined to do everything she can do to stave off the genetic predisposition to the disease. She's avoided boys, coffee, stress, stimulus, even learning to drive. Her best friend gives her monthly not-schizophrenic-yet quizzes. She is determined to beat the disease. However, what happens when something more important than your desires come up? Do you walk away? What are you willing to sacrifice?

Honestly, this is one of those books that seems like it would be a quick, set-and-forget kind of books, but it asks the hard questions. What's more important to you than you? Are you willing to sacrifice what you want for what someone else needs? How damaging can our own unintentional narcissism be to our relationships? What if your parents aren't perfect? What if you're not?

Lily is a flawed main character, and not because she's fearful of her future. She's flawed because she's an 18-year-old girl. She's self-obsessed. Her problems create a myopic view of her world - sound like any other eighteen-somethings you know? The best part, however, is that she's able to learn. Her flaws are room for growth, not stereotyped and fluffed up for the reader. The fixes are raw, they're messy, and they're open-ended--almost like real life fixes tend to be. The result is a relatable (at any age, let's be honest, I have T-shirts older than Lily!), real character I couldn't help but root for. The supporting characters are equally as complex and realistic. It was a breath of fresh air.

Even better, this book brings up and highlights two well-researched and pertinent topics: mental health and the plight of elephants around the world. Are they related? Not at all, but in Fischer's hands, they become inseparable. Included at the back of the novel are lists of resources for both issues when readers' interested are piqued and they want to learn more. (My teachy-sense got a little giddy at that.)

Rating: Four and a half stars

For the Sensitive Reader: There's a sex scene that, while necessary to the plot, goes further than I'd prefer. There is mention of pedophilia, attempted filicide, animal abuse, and a murder most foul. Trigger Warnings: abuse, schizophrenic breaks 

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