Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Richard Jacobson
From the back cover: Jack’s mom is gone. When eleven-year-old Jack Martel wakes up on the first morning of a camping trip with his mom in Acadia National Park, he is all alone. It’s not the first time Jack’s mom has disappeared, and Jack knows that it’s up to him to find her before someone figures out what’s happened and separates them forever. But finding his mom in the state of Maine isn’t the same as finding her in their neighborhood back in Boston. While Jack searches the places they’d planned to visit with nothing but a small plastic elephant to keep him company, a dark thought plagues him: once he finds his mom, will he be able to forgive her?
How do you define what makes a good mother? Does a good mother know what her child loves? Does a good mother have inside jokes with her kids? Share her own passions with them? Try to protect them from those she feels mean harm? Does a good mother make mistakes?
Of course they do.
By most definitions, a woman who abandons her child would not be a good mother, but Jack Martel would disagree with you, and he would be right.
It’s never explicitly stated in Small as an Elephant, but an adult reader will understand Jack’s mother has manic-depression, and that she doesn’t take her medication properly. But she’s still a good mother, and Jack knows this. As he searches for her in Maine, then as he tries to make his way back home to Boston, he spends a lot of time alone with his thoughts and memories. He wrestles with his current predicament and with forgiving her, but his abandonment does not exist in a vacuum—there is much more to his relationship with his mom than her illness and how it affects him.
He wants to forgive her and hold her accountable at the same time, and accepting that is a crucial part of his journey. It’s part of his mother’s journey, too—forgiveness. Trust. Admitting that we can be both weak and strong at the same time.
And that sometimes, the things that make us feel safe can be many little things that add up to one big thing: like elephants, humans care for one another. We take in those who have been abandoned or lost, so they are not alone any longer.
For June 14: The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
I know I was supposed to review Challenger Deep this week, but my brother has been in hospice, and I honestly haven’t been able to concentrate on anything more than keeping my kids’ lives mostly sane and being there by phone for my parents. My brother passed away yesterday evening. So, this week, I’ve posted a recently-written review of a book my daughters’ book club read this year. I’ll get back on track shortly.