cover image The Elephant Girl

The Elephant Girl

James Patterson and Ellen Banda-Aaku, with Sophia Krevoy. Little, Brown/Patterson, $16.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-316-31692-7

In this powerful novel based in true events, Maasai 12-year-old Jama Anyango’s life is irrevocably changed when she befriends a herd of elephants near her Kenyan village. As her best friend begins to focus on crushes, Jama, who longs for “the same freedom and power” as boys have, instead seeks refuge in the gorgeous natural landscapes around her, disobeying her widowed mother’s rules that she stay near the village. An assured first-person perspective connects readers with Jama as she bonds with the elephant herd at a watering hole she loves, particularly a baby elephant whose birth she witnesses and whom she names Mbegu. But poachers roam the land, looking to kill elephants for their tusks, and the neglect of a seemingly corrupt wildlife ranger further threatens the elephants’ safety. After a tragic accident, Jama’s courage is put to the test, and her home life and well-being are imperiled, when the other villagers seek to kill Mbegu in revenge. Patterson and Banda-Aaku’s well-developed, vividly set story is thoroughly grounded in Jama’s bravery, moral strength, and genuine love for the animals that share her home. An authors’ note discusses elephant poaching. Ages 10–14. (July)