When Elephants Fly
T. Lily Decker is a high school senior with a 12-year plan: avoid stress, drugs, alcohol, boyfriends, and take regular psych quizzes administered by her best friend, Sawyer, to make sure she's not developing schizophrenia.
Genetics are not on Lily's side. When she was seven, her mother, who had paranoid schizophrenia, tried to kill her. And a secret has revealed that Lily's odds are even worse than she thought. Still, there's a chance to avoid triggering the mental health condition, if Lily can live a careful life from age 18 to 30, when the condition most commonly manifests.
But when a newspaper internship results in Lily witnessing a mother elephant try to kill her three-week-old calf, Swifty, Lily can't abandon the story or the calf. With Swifty in danger of dying from grief, Lily must choose whether to risk everything, including her sanity and a first love, on a desperate road trip to save the calf's life, perhaps finding her own version of freedom along the way.
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From the Critics
"This is as much a story about mental health as it is about compassion and evolution. Lily Decker survived her mother's schizophrenia-induced attempt at filicide as a young child. The fear of also having mental health issues shapes the rest of her life and her relationship with her father. She is a high school senior set on living as unremarkably as possible, devoid of stress, risks, and stimulation-anything that might exacerbate her symptoms. Despite avoiding excitement as much as she can, her unintentionally well-received articles on the new baby elephant at the local zoo put her at the center of unwanted drama. The baby is rejected by its mother and per contract, must be given up to the circus owning the father elephant. Lily is caught in the middle with the opportunity to write on an interesting subject and the conflicts of having wild animals in captivity. This, and the issues of the people she meets, are the backdrop of her dramatic, life-changing mental crisis. This novel manages to cover a wide range of topics: mental health, genetics, family trauma and the scars it can inflict, friendship dynamics, and animal rights. The narrative is occasionally scattered with flashbacks and Lily's internal dialogue, which is an effective storytelling technique showcasing her increasingly unsteady mental health. VERDICT: A recommended addition to most YA collections."
—School Library Journal
"Unlike anything I've read before in YA, When Elephants Fly is both a fascinating adventure and a stirring coming-of-age novel."
—Sara Zarr, National Book Award finalist, author of Gem & Dixie
"When Elephants Fly is a compelling read, one that encourages empathy in the reader, beautifully threading the complex relationship between mothers and daughters, mental illness and elephants."
—Carrie Arcos, National Book Award Finalist, author of We Are All That's Left
"This book was amazing. Poignant, moving, and it tugged at my heartstrings. Nancy Richardson Fischer has managed to combine so many important topics--gender identity, extinction, animal welfare, family, mental illness, and adolescence into an accessible, moving and extraordinary story. The characters are genuine and come alive on the pages. I was truly invested emotionally in their lives. The author dealt with the issue of mental illness beautifully, including the stigma, the fear, wonder, resentment, and secrecy that often come along with it. And the balance reached on the issues of wildlife, conservation, poaching, zoos and the circus—combining a compelling story with educational facts—were also done with finesse and accuracy. My only regret was that I didn't read this novel with my daughter, but I have given her a copy! Bravo."
—Ellen C. O'Connell, Executive Vice President, Global, Space for Giants
"I love this story! Author Nancy Richardson Fischer has created characters that are compelling and memorable, offering a heartfelt allegory of the human-elephant relationship. Beautifully written with intense sensitivity, Nancy uniquely portrays the trials and tribulations of a young woman suffering from mental illness who is drawn into the emotionally-charged world of elephants living in zoos and circuses, and the ethics and issues surrounding their lives in captivity. Through her journey to help a baby elephant born at a zoo, the young woman learns that the challenges the calf faces for its survival mirror those in her own life. This moving, coming-of-age adventure story is a captivating page-turner that crescendos to a valiant and surprisingly delightful conclusion filled with hope for both humans and elephants."
—Patricia Sims, Filmmaker, When Elephants Were Young. Founder, World Elephant Day
"This book was an absolute pleasure to read. Nancy has balanced delicate topics with ease and entwined them in a thought provoking, meaningful read. As a young female conservationist, I encourage my generation to read this inspirational book and discuss mental illness and tolerance and the need to improve wildlife protection. I look forward to passing When Elephants Fly to my friends and spreading the word!"
—Katie Rowe, Pritzker Genius Award nominee, Co-founder Reteti Elephant Sanctuary
"Lily's struggle to find light in so much darkness is the brave struggle of so many. When Elephants Fly
will inspire readers to love through fear, to love themselves and their humanity, to love the world."
—Jenny Torres Sanchez, author of The Fall of Innocence