When Elephants Fly – Review

“Crazy is genetic. It’s the house I was born inside. There are no windows, just two locked doors. One door leads to Normal, the other to Insanity. At some point, I will inherit a key, but I don’t get to pick which door it unlocks.”

Life is anything but certain for High School Senior, T. Lillian Decker. To help control the uncertainty, she has devised a twelve year plan. Avoid stress. No drugs, alcohol, or boyfriends. Stay on top of her mental health via online psych quizzes. It doesn’t matter what she’s missing out on, as long as she misses the trigger that could sentence her to life as a schizophrenic.

Lily has reason to be worried. When she was seven, her mother tried to kill herself. And Lily. The women in her family have all had schizophrenia. The odds are not in her favor. Her hope is to avoid anything that could trigger her illness during the most common range for manifestation: eighteen to thirty. Hence, the twelve year plan.

When her newspaper internship sends her to cover the birth of a baby elephant, Lily quickly finds out that life can’t always be avoided. She witnesses the mother reject and try to kill her baby calf. Even though it isn’t part of the plan, she can’t turn away from the baby elephant who is in danger of dying from grief. Lily has to decide if she’ll take the safe path, or if she’ll rush everything, sanity included, in a desperate attempt to save the baby’s life.

“The only promise with schizophrenia is that there’s both hope and despair.”

This quote so beautifully summarizes not just this book, or Lily’s journey in this book, but life. There is both hope and despair as we struggle through whatever obstacles life presents to us, and the only choice we have is to move forward and live with the changes life presents. As far as come of age YA novels, this is one of the most stunning, inspiring, and gorgeous stories I think I’ve ever read.

When Elephants Fly is so tender and beautiful. The thing I love the most about it, is that it doesn’t try and put a positive spin on the seriousness of mental illness. Lily faces serious trauma from her past, and the very terrifying possibility of an uncertain future. That reality isn’t diminished, or explained away, or minimized in any way. In fact, everything presented in this book is presented beautifully. Like the discussion of circus versus zoo ethics. Instead of putting any slant or opinion in the plot, Fischer presents everything in such a balanced, fair, and straight-forward manner, that it allows the reader to form their own reactions and opinions.

“I know you’re scared, but you’ve been stuck in one place for a long time. When you stop taking risks, you stop living life.”

Lily has lived her entire adolescent terrified that one day she’ll stop being her. Not only does she live with that fear, she struggles with some really heavy emotional trauma from both her mother and her father. That’s one of the other things I love in this book. It focuses entirely on Lily. Her father has his own struggles that he is clearly grappling with. Along with her best friend. While she cares, this isn’t about them. At least, it’s only about them as far as her own journey to self-discovery and acceptance matters.

Everything about this book feels so real, it hurts. How Lily keeps everything and everyone at an arms length. How she’s terrified to lose control. Her anger, her fear, her love. It all is complicated and complex. Even her journey with Swifty, the baby elephant, is one that is fraught with denial and love and such vivid realness that it’s difficult to not want to jump into these pages and hug them both.

This is a book that will make you FEEL!!! I mean, seriously, get ready for all the emotions. I was sobbing at 2am. Huge, fat tears rolling down my cheeks. Yet this isn’t a sad book. I mean, it is. But it also isn’t. It’s inspiring. It’s a book that reminds you that even though life is crazy, and unpredictable; that it can contain horror, and where awful things can happen. It’s also stunningly, incredibly, breathtakingly beautiful. This is a book where you are reminded that life goes on through all the changes, through all the ups and downs, and twists and turns. That we can choose to stop living at any point, alive but closed off. Or we can open our arms and let life in.

When Elephants Fly is easily one of the most beautiful, incredible books I’ve ever read. And it will stay with me for a long, long time.

Thank you BookSparks for sending me a review copy!

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