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When Elephants Fly

Review

When Elephants Fly

Lily Decker avoids most of the common high school experiences --- dating, drinking, stress and coffee. It’s all a part of her 12-year plan, which she adheres to, literally, for the sake of her sanity. After her mother, struggling with schizophrenia, tried to murder Lily at age seven, Lily realized that she had to take steps to ensure she doesn’t end up like her mother. If she lives a careful life until the age of 30, before which age schizophrenia generally manifests, she might just escape the mental illness that claimed the mother Lily once knew.

"Fischer’s novel provides a relevant and relatable character in an often overlooked subject area....Nancy Richardson Fischer presents a common story with interesting twists that will lift WHEN ELEPHANTS FLY to success."

For years Lily has managed with her best friend, Sawyer, to keep her company, even as she avoids extra activities and quietly navigates around her father, who doesn’t talk about what happened, yet watches Lily closely. After taking an internship at a local newspaper in order to appease her therapist, Lily finds herself accidentally caught up in the life of a young elephant calf born at the local zoo. When the calf is rejected by her mother in a life-threatening turn of events, Lily is tied to the story --- and the calf. Between staying up at night caring for the baby elephant, to traveling with her cross-country, Lily finds herself exposed to all kinds of triggers. Can she save the baby elephant and still escape the looming threat of mental illness, or will this experience be the one that pushes her over the edge?

With WHEN ELEPHANTS FLY, Nancy Richardson Fischer presents a unique coming of age story with a strong focus on mental health. Lily Decker differs from other main characters in that she is not directly fighting mental illness --- rather, it hangs over her head as a possibility that she can only fight indirectly. For teens facing similar genetic struggles --- whether mental or physical --- Fischer’s novel provides a relevant and relatable character in an often overlooked subject area.  Regardless of their roots, Lily’s fear and hesitation will resonate with readers on a broader level as well. Her journey to accept herself, regardless of her mental state, is particularly meaningful, but her coming-of-age path also includes a meaningful look at her relationships with others and her willingness to take risks.  

Schizophrenia is less common in young adult novels than anxiety and depression, and Fischer provides a clear and unflinching portrayal of a mental illness with many different manifestations, educating readers while also providing a powerful story of identity. Utilizing flashbacks, Fischer also details the effects of mental illness on families, in Lily’s relationship with her father, as well as her memories of her mother. Additionally, with Lily’s best friend, Sawyer, Fischer demonstrates the support networks that friends can form for individuals facing mental illness.

With an already unique story, WHEN ELEPHANTS FLY takes the step of adding another unconventional issue in many young adult novels --- animal rights. Even as Lily learns about herself, she learns about the lives of animals in zoos and circuses. Fischer includes plenty of information on the experiences of animals in these situations while still presenting a compelling and interesting story.

For all its strengths, however, WHEN ELEPHANTS FLY struggles with the element of romance. Lily’s relationship later in the book feels forced and rushed. Although it represents another risk for Lily, the story might have been even more powerful had it focused more on her own growth, with the romance a more subtle and understated feature of the story.

Regardless, Fischer ends her novel on a hopeful, open-ended note, choosing not to tie up Lily’s future, but present her with something much more powerful --- acceptance. A traditional story of maturation with plenty of unique features, Nancy Richardson Fischer presents a common story with interesting twists that will lift WHEN ELEPHANTS FLY to success.

Reviewed by Rachel R., Teen Board Member on September 12, 2018

When Elephants Fly
by Nancy Richardson Fischer