The flood left, but the fever stayed.
Chanda, ten-year-old Hastin's younger sister, is hovering on death's doorstep. Amma, their mother, takes a job to cover the cost of her hospital care fearing they may loose her as they did her husband and Hastin's father.
Discovering his mother's employer to be abusive Hastin seeks a job to free her from these obligations. He is wooed by the owner of a circus who seeks his services as an elephant keeper. The promise of more than enough money to pay the debt, despite being away from home for a year, sounds good to a young boy with more trouble than someone his age should have.
Leaving the only environment he has known, Hastin finds himself surrounded by the green of jungle many days away from his family. Arriving at the circus Hastin finds it, like the owner, his elephant trainer and the elderly cook, not as he expected. After a trap is dug and hidden Hastin, watching the elephants daily, becomes attached to the herd giving them names.
When a young female, Nandita, is captured, riddled with guilt Hastin pledges to give her the best of care and find a way to unit her with her family. Timir, the circus owner, Sharad, the elephant trainer and Ne Min, the Burmese cook, all harbor secrets; secrets which drive their actions, shape their personalities. Very quickly Hastin realizes to save himself from this servitude and Nandita from the tortuous training, he must find a courage he is not sure he has.
As the days, weeks and months pass Nandita and Hastin develop an inexplicable understanding which can grow between humans and animals, knowing in their heart of hearts they would protect each other with their very lives. Pressure to perform, escalating events, and a real fear of being trapped in a never-ending nightmare push all the characters to their limits; some with evil intent, others to be what is best in human nature, to make wrongs of the past right. In an ending where bravery overcomes fear, death renews life and the price for freedom is paid readers' hearts will pause in anticipation and swell in celebration.
Through the careful research of Lynne Kelly readers become aware of a very real portrayal of life in India for children and elephants. Through her attention to detail readers are swept up in Hastin's and Nandita's world; heart's aching for their suffering and taking comfort in the bond forged between the two. In the skillfully developed character of Ne Min, Kelly has given the two a mentor filled with a wisdom born from experience; holding the key to their survival.
Readers will come to know through Kelly's narrative, while Nandita is the one wearing visible chains, other characters are chained by greed, fear, grief and poverty. Cleverly each chapter is headed with a statement from Care of Jungle Elephants by Tin San Bo giving insight into their nature and keeping but also providing readers with questions. A talented wordsmith, to be sure, here are a couple of examples of Lynne Kelly's writing from this title.
Never have I seen this much green. One tree blends into another, and another, so I cannot tell where one tree ends and the next begins. Green surrounds me with leafy walls, covers the ground below me, and hangs over my head in a canopy of branches. It is beautiful but it is not my home, with its browns of rust-tan mud and sand and thatch.
I hear the elephants before I see them. The snapping of twigs and rustle of leaves catch my attention. Then I see the waves of gray weaving through the trees in front of me.
The old man and the elephant stare at each other. "Her eyes are sad," he says.
So are yours, I want to say.
He takes Nandita's trunk and holds it out to me. "Here, blow into the end of her trunk."
"Why would I do that?" I ask.
"To help her remember who you are. Their sense of smell is strongly tied to their memory."
I do as Ne Min says. He pats Nandita on the back, and she rolls to her side.
"How do you know so much about them?" I ask.
"I am old. I know everything."
With intent and heart Lynne Kelly leads readers into Chained, a captivating tale of India, a boy and his elephant. We willingly follow her words giving ourselves over to the road she paves toward freedom. Thank you Lynne Kelly for this book; strength, devotion and love triumphant.
To read further about Lynne Kelly follow her website embedded in her name above. Lynne was gracious enough to recommend two interviews which provide background into the writing of Chained linked here and here.
UPDATE: This morning, August 12, 2012 Lynne Kelly posted a link on Twitter leading me to this documentary about elephants in Thailand narranted by William Shatner. It is informative and deeply moving. Pair this with her book and your students will have much to discuss and ponder.