cover image Copper Elephant

Copper Elephant

Adam Rapp. Front Street, $16.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-1-886910-42-3

As ominous and as skillful in its creation of dialect as his The Buffalo Tree, Rapp's dystopian adventure may be too hermetic to welcome a wide readership. The earth is rapidly decaying and is being assaulted by poison rains; brutal soldiers control what is left of the population by murdering the weak, sterilizing women and enslaving all orphans under the age of 12. Through luck and another character's perception that she is ""special,"" Whensday, one of the luckier Undertwelves, manages to escape the fate of the Digit Kids who are worked to death in the Pits. She meets up with two fellow fugitives: Honeycut, a slow-witted 19-year-old who is sculpting a life-size elephant out of bits of foil, and Oakley, a younger orphan who awakens Whensday's maternal instincts as well as her sexuality. Glimmers of hope are few and far between and almost always undercut by frustratingly grim ironies. For example, Honeycut gets stoned to death after trying to save Whensday from a rapist. The bleak landscape is made even more difficult to comprehend by Whensday's impoverished language (""The Babymakers got a life hole where the Lost Men go lay""). Otherwise very well crafted, this story lacks a strong resolution; having exerted themselves to reach the finish line, readers may feel frustrated by the tentative ending. Ages 12-up. (Nov.)