Review: The Girl Who Stole An Elephant by Nizrana Farook.
Chaya stood up and ran. A searing pain shot through her leg and all the way up. It was useless. She was in too much pain. This was it; they’d find her here eventually.
And then in the distance, through a blur of pain, Chaya saw her getaway vehicle.
(The Girl Who Stole An Elephant by Nizrana Farook.)
Chaya can solve anything. A broken leg that requires emergency medical treatment, education fees, roof repairs … Chaya is happy to steal from the rich if it means that the people in her village are able to cover the cost of their basic needs. Then Chaya steals the Queen’s Jewels and her best friend Neel takes the blame.
The King doesn’t take kindly to thieves. Even falsely accused ones. Unless Chaya acts fast, Neel will lose his live.
Together with rich, lonely Nour, Chaya breaks Neel out of prison. Together with a stolen elephant, the King’s elephant Ananda, the children escape to the jungle.
They need to find a solution before the village suffers for their actions.
Are you ready for adventure? Chaya is the new daredevil protagonist to win readers’ hearts. Her habit of causing real trouble is matched only by her determination to do the right thing. Think break-ins and breakouts and epic getaways. And an elephant named Ananda.
This novel challenges us to question our definition of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Chaya does something illegal when she breaks into the palace. However, the people of Chaya’s village aren’t able to meet their basic needs without the theft and the King hasn’t raised a finger to help. He lives off the profit of the land and allows the villagers to go without. This context opens some interesting questions about morals and actions. How far would we go to have a secure life? Does this make Chaya’s actions right? We see very early on that what Chaya does is a gamble and that it can lead to greater and more desperate trouble. However, there was no doubt for me as a reader that my empathy lay with her. This is a brilliant middle grade novel to introduce topics about social injustice – a topic which is sadly all too relevant in the present day.
This is also a story about revolution, without the focus on the bloodshed and sacrifice that is more common in YA. We see that scary things happen, desperate things, but the story itself is mainly about Chaya’s escape and return to the village. This allows younger readers to learn about the idea of revolution without seeing the scarier parts in lengthy detail.
That’s not to say the stakes aren’t high. We know the King won’t relent unless he is fought.
The friendships in this story are wonderful and the tensions between the children are clear. Chaya wants to do right. Neel can see that the cost of Chaya’s actions might be too high. Nour wants company and friendship – a big thing to her, but she struggles to see that Chaya isn’t playing games. I loved what Nour brought to the story. Middle-Class children are too often derided in fiction without any consideration given to the fact that they are young too, and only know their ‘normal’. This story empathises with Nour while gently showing that she hasn’t seen enough of the world yet to understand the wider picture. She is naïve and often frustrating to the other characters, but she is also good-hearted and willing to stick by her new friends.
I love stories where the main characters aren’t natural bosom buddies. The development, and the way they come together, is often deep and memorable. This is the case with The Girl Who Stole An Elephant.
This is pure middle-grade brilliance and deservedly Waterstones Book Of The Month for January 2020. Prepare to have your heart opened and to fall in love with this fantastic adventure.
Thanks to Nosy Crow Ltd for my proof copy of The Girl Who Stole An Elephant. Opinions my own.