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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Review: The Elephant of Surprise

Title: The Elephant of Surprise
Author: Brent Hartinger
Series: The Russel Middlebrook Series (Book #4)
Publisher: Buddha Kitty Books
Pages: 166 (ebook)
Source: Netgalley
Where to Buy: Barnes and Noble <> Amazon

People aren't always what they seem to be. Sometimes we even surprise ourselves.

So discovers seventeen-year-old Russel Middlebrook in The Elephant of Surprise, a stand-alone sequel to Brent Hartinger's landmark 2003 gay young adult novel Geography Club (which has now been adapted as a feature film co-starring Scott Bakula and Nikki Blonsky).

In this latest book, Russel and his friends Min and Gunnar are laughing about something they call the Elephant of Surprise -- the tendency for life to never turn out as expected. Sure enough, Russel soon happens upon a hot but mysterious homeless activist named Wade, even as he's drawn back to an old flame named Kevin. Meanwhile, Min is learning surprising things about her girlfriend Leah, and Gunnar just wants to be left alone to pursue his latest technology obsession.

But the elephant is definitely on the move in all three of their lives. Just who is Wade and what are he and his friends planning? What is Leah hiding? And why is Gunnar taking naked pictures of Kevin in the shower?

The Elephant of Surprise includes Hartinger's trademark combination of humor and romance, angst and optimism. Before the story is over, Russel and his friends will learn that the Elephant of Surprise really does appear when you least expect him—and that when he stomps on you, it really, really hurts.

What I Think:
I got this book from Netgalley, because it sounded interesting and, though it is the fourth book in a series, it promised to be able to be read as a standalone. I have never read any of the other books in the series, so I came to Russel with a pair of fresh eyes late in the game.

There doesn't seem to be a lot of YA books starring a kid under the GLBT umbrella. That was the first thing that made me happy about this book. Finally something for the minority. BUt I was also scared out of my mind on how it would be handled. I was relieved with the humanness of Russell. He was a normal teenage boy. There were no excessive stereotypes or places where the author tried too hard to seem inclusive.

Hartinger was able to strike a great balance between calling out the hypocrisies between  gay and straight culture without bashing either. The assholes weren't assholes because they were gay/straight, no they were assholes because their character was an asshole. Most YA books, GLBT or not, have a hard time not falling into tropes, but this one easily side steps traps everywhere.

Russell and his friends all have the voices of real teenagers. They did stupid things and said stupid things, but they were also quite intelligent. I appreciate that Hartinger did not shy away from cursing. Many teenagers curse and it is absurd that so many YA books refuse to acknowledge the fact. This just seemed to make the characters more believable to me.

Another part that made them seem believable to me was they were aware of only what matters to them. Most people, not just teenagers, unconsciously think of themselves as the center of the universe. These characters do, and seem to know it.

Overall, I really enjoyed the  realness of the book, even though that same realness made some of the characters a little annoying. I wish I could have seen more of some characters and less of others. I totally recommend this book to everyone.

Rating: 4/5

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