Jack and his mother have gone camping in Maine just days before the start of the new school year. When Jack awakens in the morning, his mother is gone. Although Jack is concerned, he is not extremely alarmed. His mother has left him before. So, Jack sets off to try and find his mother. With little money and a lot of ingenuity and bravery Jack does a pretty good job of trying to get himself back to Boston without anyone finding him. He manages to get food when he needs it and find places to sleep at night. However, Jack takes a small elephant from a store in Bar Harbor and is sure the police will arrest him for stealing. Jack has a minor obsession with elephants. Each chapter begins with a fact or quote about elephants and Jack remembers that the one thing he and his mother fought about before her disappearance was that his mother would not take him to see Lydia, the one elephant living in Maine. Now, as Jack tries to walk home, he decides to make a detour and visit Lydia.
I think this book will be a winner with both boys and girls. As an adult, I tried not to pick apart some things that I found unbelievable- like the fact that Jack didn't realize that even if he manage to make it home at some point another adult was going to need to intervene on his behalf. Tween readers will be rooting for Jack to make it home, and like Jack be hopeful that his mother is there. Unfortunately for Jack, his mother's mental illness caused her to become estranged from Jack's grandma, and the one person who he could have called for help seemed inaccessible to him. By book's end there is a resolution for Jack and his grandmother, and the way in which his mother's illness is addressed allows Jack to develop an understanding and acceptance of the way his mother's mind works.
Jennifer Richard Jacobson's debut novel was a great read and one I am hoping to place in the hands of many of my tween readers at school.