________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 31. . . .April 16, 2010


Follow The Elephant.

Beryl Young.
Vancouver, BC: Ronsdale Press, 2010.
246 pp., pbk., $10.95.
ISBN 978-1-55380-098-9.

Subject Headings:
India-Juvenile fiction.
Grandmothers-Juvenile fiction.
Grandparent and child-Juvenile fiction.
Pen pals-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Amy Dawley.

*** /4



Anoop pointed to the east and signalled his passengers to watch across the river. Ben had seen a few great sunrises camping with Dad, but none were a match for this. Rising above the horizon was the largest crimson sun he'd ever seen. Beside them, other boats bobbed in the murky water, their passengers under a collective trance at the magnificence of the morning, their faces bathed in the reflected glow of the red ball of the enormous sun. To complete the picture, the sound of clanging temple bells drifted across from the shore. Ben felt as though he were in the middle of a movie set.

A smaller boat approached their side and a sari-clad woman held up a coconut shell with a small lit candle inside. A wooden shelf stretched across her boat; on it sat more shells, each containing a glowing candle.

Anoop explained, "You must have a candle to float on the river. They will be keeping company with the ashes of the departed for their journey to the next world."


After the death of his father, 13-year-old Ben has retreated into himself with his computer and video games as his only emotional outlets. In an effort to help Ben cope with his father's death, Ben's grandmother asks him to accompany her on a trip to India where she intends to search for her pen pal Shanti, someone with whom she had lost touch as a young woman. Ben is outwardly reluctant to go, but his curiosity gets the best of him, and Ben allows his grandmother to drag him half a world away to India. They journey across India and back, looking for his grandmother's pen pal and having adventures, lead them from a bustling city teeming with energy to the ocean coast where lazy waves lap upon the shore. While Ben and his grandmother search for answers in India, this is ultimately a story of self-discovery as their being in India makes them search for answers within themselves.

      Beryl Young has written a rich travelogue that brings the sights, sounds, and smells of India to life. Readers who dream of visiting far off places will escape into the pages of this well-paced novel, and Young's superb descriptions will make India very real in their minds. Young has expertly woven historical and cultural facts about India in with the prose of the novel, making this story one that will not only entertain readers, but teach them as well. Children will identify with Ben's initial scepticism, but they will find themselves becoming increasingly curious about India's many mysteries as Ben, himself, becomes more interested in India's religion and culture as the adventure progresses.

      While the rich descriptions and well-paced character development are definite strengths, there are occasional inconsistencies in the voice of the characters—especially Ben—that are distracting. For example, as Ben comes to terms with his father's death and his own growth as a young man, those profound personal realizations are sometimes accompanied by an awkward, out-of-place comment that stands out from Ben's usual voice: "Ben found it impossible to believe that he was tossing around in a small boat on a holy river thousands of miles away from home. This was real life, more amazing than any computer game ever invented." As the reader gets to know Ben, these distracting comments are minor interruptions in the otherwise seamless progression of the dialogue and plot.

      Despite this small flaw, Follow the Elephant is above all a well-written novel that is rich in cultural, historical, and geographical detail. It would be an excellent choice for any intermediate student who dreams of traveling the world, or for those who are particularly curious about India. For students who are undertaking a social studies project on India, it would be fantastic choice to help the dull facts and figures come to life and to create a real picture of the sights and sounds of India in their mind.


Amy Dawley is the teen librarian at the Prince George Public Library in Prince George, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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