The Elephant of Surprise (Anglais) Broché – 10 janvier 2013
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Book 4 in the Lambda Award-winning Russel Middlebrook Series!
People aren't always what they seem to be. Sometimes we even surprise ourselves.
So discovers seventeen-year-old Russel Middlebrook in The Elephant of Surprise, a stand-alone sequel to Brent Hartinger's landmark 2003 gay young adult novel Geography Club (which has now been adapted as a feature film co-starring Scott Bakula and Nikki Blonsky).
In this latest book, Russel and his friends Min and Gunnar are laughing about something they call the Elephant of Surprise – the tendency for life to never turn out as expected. Sure enough, Russel soon happens upon a hot but mysterious homeless activist named Wade, even as he's drawn back to an old flame named Kevin. Meanwhile, Min is learning surprising things about her girlfriend Leah, and Gunnar just wants to be left alone to pursue his latest technology obsession.
But the elephant is definitely on the move in all three of their lives. Just who is Wade and what are he and his friends planning? What is Leah hiding? And why is Gunnar taking naked pictures of Kevin in the shower?
The Elephant of Surprise includes Hartinger's trademark combination of humor and romance, angst and optimism. Before the story is over, Russel and his friends will learn that the Elephant of Surprise really does appear when you least expect him—and that when he stomps on you, it really, really hurts.
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I do have to say I was a bit disappointed by this sequel, probably because of how much I loved the first book in the series. The Elephant of Surprise is fine as a stand-alone novel--I didn't have to read books #2 and #3 to comprehend it--but I think a bit of Russel's original voice and humor was lost somewhere in between those books and those several years. He's definitely no longer as naïve; if Geography Club was a coming-of-age story, consider The Elephant of Surprise an after-age novel. It was great to see how he's doing after having discovered himself, and to visit the more mature, more grown-up version of the same character I adored in the first book. He's a little less silly and a little less foolish, which I didn't like... I miss silly, cute Russel. His jokes often aren't as funny in this one, as if he's trying to hard to make them. However, there was still enough sass coming from him to keep the narrative fresh. I'm glad Hartinger didn't completely do away with that aspect.
While I don't think the characters, as in Russel and his friends, were as developed in this installment of the Russel Middlebrook series, I do appreciate how well Russel's conflicting feelings are conveyed--they're probably the most realistic, most tender part of this novel. He's supposed to be wiser, and yet there's this undertone of dramatic irony because he still lets his romantic hopes affect his head and his heart. The familiarity of a lingering first love and, in contrast, the scintillation surrounding a new, mysterious older guy bring life to this story.
The romance depicted isn't particularly sexual or exciting, but it is, at its core, heartwarming and nerve-wracking in the way young love tends to be. Geography Club is heavy on issues regarding identity and teenage sexuality, but this one is pretty skimpy on the issues of gay adolescence. The topic on comes up with Russel's continued and newfound love interests, but it isn't as redolent or as powerful as I expected it to be. Hartinger's voice is sharp and clear, but again, it falls flat in comparison to that in Geography Club.
The tension in this book is thick and the plot exciting, but it gets boring at times. I appreciate Russel's self-discovery in this book, though: how he never really knows when the Elephant of Surprise may show up, nor of the great impacts it'll make for better, or for worse. Sometimes, it isn't even the Elephant of Surprise... sometimes, it's just the Elephant of Eff With Your Mind; join Russel in his mishaps and misadventures as he figures this out.
Pros: A new story, rather than a continuation off of Geography Club // Same delightful characters // Easily readable and comprehendible style // It's great to return to the same cast from the series // Shows the importance of having and considering all perspectives before forming judgment
Cons: Not as good as the first book // Voice is a bit stiff // Frequent unsuccessful attempts at humor // Focuses too much on freeganism, rather than the new connections that bloom from it // Drags out in some places
Love: "Russel," [Min] said to me, "you have nothing to be embarrassed about. Well, except maybe those pants.
Verdict: Brent Hartinger's newest addition to the Russel Middlebrook series sadly doesn't live up to its poignant, entertaining originator. True to its title, there are many unexpected twists and turns in The Elephant of Surprise that'll leave readers reeling and even a little unnerved, although I did feel it drags on at times. For the most part, it's too detailed on freeganism and the worldly outlooks Russel encounters from it, rather than looking at the whole picture. The story flows well and if you fell in love with the characters in Geography Club, you'll have fun revisiting them here, but if you're new to the series, I'd rather you just read the first book. Overall, I enjoyed this one, but wasn't that engaged.
6 out of 10 hearts (3 stars): Satisfying for a first read, but I'm not going back.
Source: Complimentary ARC provided by author in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you!)
That's really what makes these books stand out so spectacularly. Though we see the stories unfold through the eyes of our protagonist, Russel (and on one nifty occasion, his friend Min), it's the bond of friendship that exists between the three core heroes - Russel, Min, and lovable oddball Gunnar - that gives the stories such heart. These are three friends who see each other through all the trials of adolescence, whether it's trouble with school, parents, or romantic relationships. They accept each other's shortcomings without too much judgment, and constantly risk life, limb, and dignity to help the others out when they need it. Everyone should have friends like these.
Another enormous strength of the books is the casual diversity of the cast in both ethnicity and sexual orientation, which is such a non-issue to the main characters it's barely ever remarked on. When it is, it's done in a way that's charming and funny because it feels so real: for example, at one point in the story Russel worries if it's racist to want to know how it feels to kiss an African-American boy.
The kissable boy in question, Wade, is a new character to the series, and in addition to being an intriguing new potential love interest, he's also a "freegan," a lifestyle I knew very little about but learned a great deal of over the course of the book. It's a fascinating and extreme philosophy, and it shakes up the lives of our heroes in a way that begins as humorous, becomes tantalizing, and ultimately leads to a very exciting climax.
THE ELEPHANT OF SURPRISE continues the fantastic tradition of loveable characters, exciting and unpredictable plots, hilarious dialogue, and the struggle to do what's right, even when it's not quite clear what that is. This comes highly recommended.
Russel does realize that living with a long distance relationship isn't cut out for all that it's worth. Having to deal with those problems are easy. It's helping Min through her crisis at hand that will prove the most difficult. It's obvious that something secretive is going on, but the outcome of it is the biggest mystery of all.
Russel realises that his long-distance boyfriend is really just a friend, while Min suspects that her closeted girlfriend in a different school is behaving oddly. The trio discover some young people removing packaged food from the school Dumpster - Wade and Venus are Freegans and they invite the friends to see where the food goes. Russel worries that this is a cult and they'll be tied up and brainwashed to worship turnips.
Near the sprawling town dump the two Freegans hand the wrapped sandwiches to homeless people. They live in a shared abandoned house in town, maintaining the outside while living a basic lifestyle. Russel is interested in Wade, although he doesn't know if the young man is gay. He also can't stop thinking of his past boyfriend Kevin at school, although they're not talking, and asks Gunnar to spy on him. Min decides that the three should break into her girlfriend's bedroom when she's away to see what is going on. The surprises are coming around all right, but what will result? And is Russel walking them into serious danger?
Through his characters Brent Hartinger makes observations about society, including alternative lifestyles.
Eating barbecued roadkill with the Freegans, playing their Giveaway Monopoly, Russel stops worrying so much about what people think of him. But he doesn't want to be dirty, or ride a bike held together with twist ties, or opt out of college.
This is a great read, full of vibrant, growing characters, wry observations and varied vocabulary. Older teenagers and some adults will enjoy these adventures and I'll be looking out for more by Brent Hartinger... like the rest of this series!
Reading this book was very much like being kicked back to book 2, The Order of the Poison Oak, only without the cool burn survivor kids that tugged at your heart strings. When the story line with Wade showed up, I let out a groan and just had this sinking feeling it was going to be a Web situation (see book 2). At this point I have given up caring who Russel ends up with, because he sure as hell has no idea what he wants and he's likely to fall in and out of love with anyone at any time.
And then there's Kevin Land. I was a big Kevin fan in book 1, even when he was a complete jerk. I liked him so much that I found the way things ended downright depressing. Book 2 featured no Kevin at all. Book 3 brought back Kevin, but a much changed one from what we saw in book 1, even if he still had the ability to distract Russel from absolutely everything in life. The Elephant of Surprise's Kevin is the most disappointing Kevin of them all. He went from being an interesting guy, to being too nice. Too willing to sacrifice everything. I just didn't root for him anymore.
There is one upside to this book. Gunnar! I am actually surprised by how much I've come to like him in the last two books. He's had an amazing character arc, going from what I consider the worst friend in the world, to being the only character I didn't want to kick in the butt.
I didn't hate this book, as with the other books in the series, it reads easy and fast, and is amusing in places. I just didn't love it either. Perhaps this series would have worked better for me if I had months/years between each book to dull my expectations, but I read it pretty much back to back. I don't know if there are any more books planned, or if this wraps the series up, but I am personally walking away now.