Book Review: The Girl who Stole the Elephant– A Look at Proper Pacing

The title is not that striking, but my mother loves elephants, so I noticed this title. I have had several positive experiences with stories set in Eastern Asia or similar setting, like the Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. This was no exception. This is an adorable story.

The Girl Who Stole an Elephant

By Nizrana Farook

Chaya steals from the rich and helps the poor survive an oppressive king. Her best friend tries to reign her in but she is irrepressible. When a theft of some royal jewels goes awry, she tries to set things right, but makes everything so much worse. She’s not sure if she can make things right again. And… she steals an elephant, of course.

The story is non-stop action and trouble! The pacing for a middle grade story was perfect! I read this book in two sittings, both at night, when I should have been sleeping. I couldn’t put it down!

I love this character! Chaya is always doing, always charging headlong into trouble. She is so optimistically certain she can fix everything. She thinks of solutions to her problems, but never thinks about the consequences beyond the next step. This character flaw makes her human and makes her relatable. Well at least for me—I’ve never been good at chess.

The author did a good job of creating a character that never stops to think 2 steps ahead. In Klaassen’s book, Scenes and Sequels, he writes about…um…scenes and sequels. Scenes in this sense are the sequences of action. Sequels are the moments of reflection that come after the action. Depending on the writer or the characters or the story, sequels are sometimes long and go on for pages and pages. Sometimes, as with this book, sequels are very short–only a sentence or two.

For example:

Chaya in chapter 1 stole some of the queen’s jewels. She jumped and climbed and scrambled to escape. Then we get a paragraph of sequel:

“It was pandemonium down there. The crowds were scattered and panicked, clusters of people moving in different directions. The King, standing out in his golden encrusted waistcoat, had come down from the dais and was roaring at his staff. The Queen and her procession of ladies were being guided out of the promenade up to the palace. The manhouts on the green were trying desperately to calm the confused charges and stop them from running amok. In the middle of it all, Ananda lifted up his majestic head and trumpeted loudly into the blue, blue sky.”

The Girl who Stole an Elephant pg 8 by Nizrana Farook

She didn’t reflect much on her own actions, just watched all the chaos she caused. On the next page she takes a moment to wonder,

“Chaya wondered what was happening at the royal palace at that moment. She’d lost them, but would they just give up? Surely they’d continue to look for her?”

The Girl who Stole an Elephant pg 10 by Nizrana Farook

This character, in her headlong action, does precious little reflecting. This keeps the pacing very fast, very engaging, and fun. Other stories and genres and characters spend more time reflecting and processing the action events. This is partly why I struggle to enjoy literary fiction. It almost always feels very slow paced because they spend so much time in sequel that the action scene never happens.

Another thing commonly done with sequel scenes is that the reflection is done through or alongside dialogue. If your characters experienced the action scene together, they might talk about what happened and process it together. With the scene above, she experienced the action alone. She is now processing her actions and the response in between her dialogue with her friend, Neel. He has no idea what just happened, but he can tell she is distracted by something (her thoughts). This helps keep the pace fast and keep engagement high. In a way, you are weaving the necessary sequel with the next action scene, because that does turn out that she asks Neel to hide the jewels for her.

Overall, these characters are lovable. The story is sweet. The plot…a little unrealistic. It is naïve and simplistic–not even a tiny bit gritty. So basically, a delightful escape from reality. I loved it! Totally appropriate for kids 3rd grade and up.

Lately, I have been feeling the weight of the world and it is rather distracting when I try to write. It is time for a virtual writing retreat. This retreat is designed for one person or for many. You can retreat into your office or rent a cabin in the woods and it will work perfectly! Click the image to find out more about it.