Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Elephant of Surprise (Russel Middlebrook #4) by Brent Hartinger Review

The Elephant of Surprise (Russel Middlebrook #4)
by Brent Hartinger
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Goodreads SummaryBook 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.

Okay so I'm gonna go all fan girly over this novel. I loved, loved, loved it! No, I haven't read any of the other novels in the series, but I wasn't at all lost. There is enough back story that I felt completely in the know as I read the story. Russel is the navigator of The Elephant of Surprise and I say it that way because he's kind of leading a double life. Don't worry his friends are, too, sort of. I love having Russel narrate because he talks to the reader asking us to agree with him. He is funny and kind of like talking to one of the girls. He swoons over the same things we do, tight shirts over big muscles, kissable lips....definitely notices the things we do. Russel also has a flair for the dramatic and apparently metaphors. The novel begins with Russel telling us he's in the middle of a jungle with vicious animals all around, frozen with fear afraid one move would make him prey for some animal. Then he says, "No, really, I was! I know, I know. You're thinking: 'He always does this. He stars the story pretending he's in the middle of some exciting event- a war, a fire, a zombie apocalypse,- but then it just turns out to be something metaphorical. I'm not falling for it this time.'" (first page, chapter one) Drama, metaphors. But my favorite and this shows his humor which is present throughout the book - "A weed had broken through the concrete of my heart. (Yes, I know that's over-the-top. Go with it.) (Chapter 11). Russel is always throwing things out to the reader like we are living the story with him. I loved it!

 Russel's love life is a bit of a drama, too. Remember it's high school, who's wasn't? He is torn between his jock (gorgeous) ex who did something unforgivable (or maybe he just thinks he did) and a new guy he met, a "Freegan" who he can't tell if he's gay or not.  There is a nice lesson in there about being Freegan something I've never heard of, don't worry it's not an info dump. It's really entertaining and makes some very good points about Americans and consumerism. No, I didn't feel guilty. I read for pleasure, not to feel guilty. But it was good knowledge to have.

Then there's Min who is dating a girl from another school who isn't exactly "out" yet. Min thinks she might be cheating on her, but is afraid to confront her. What she convinces Gunnar and Russel to do to get any evidence that she's cheating definitely goes beyond the bounds of friendship. She sends out the "Bat Signal" as Russel says. I say more the Bat S*** Crazy signal. But it does make for some funny/tense moments. Min is one of a kind. I need to read the rest of the series just to see her antics. Apparently she is a  know-it-all, only she really does know it all!

And Gunnar, well according to Min and Russel he operates on a whole other level. (I've got a son like that. We haven't identified the level yet). Gunnar documents his every waking minute and posts it on line during the book. Russel tells him it's so boring even he unfriended him but Gunnar doesn't care. We don't see a lot of Gunnar, but I think still waters run deep with Gunnar. Russel describes him as "too different to even realize how different he is, if that makes any sense. It's something of a curse, but it's a good curse: it makes him one of the most interesting people I've ever met, and probably one of the most interesting people I ever will meet." (end of chapter one).

These are people you really want to get to know the more you read about them. They are so close they feel the same feelings at the same time. They have each others backs. They love each other. There is no petty back stabbing or jealousy. These three are true friends and despite their own troubles, they ask about each others lives and help each other, no matter how crazy the scheme or idea, because that's what friends do. So when The Elephant of Surprise comes and stomps on them or brings happiness, they are there for each other.

Recommend for lovers of contemporary YA, romance, and friendships. There is some language and sexual mentions so this would be for a more mature YA reader. I highly recommend it. It's actually a quick read. The story is so engaging, the characters so well written and the pacing is perfect. And the romances, some are good, some are in flux and some fall apart. That's YA romance! But there's lot's of it!

***I wrote Brent Hartinger an email to tell him how much I loved the novel right after I finished it. You know that feeling you have inside right after you read a great novel? I told him I felt all glowy inside like a warm chocolate chip cookie right out of the oven!  I love books that can make me feel that way! What about you?***

As mentioned in the beginning of the Goodreads Summary, The first book in this series, The Geography Club will be coming to theaters later this year, I think. I hope so! 


  1. The humor and romance sounds like a winning combo.

    1. It makes life easier doesn't it? And sure makes a book better!

  2. I've never heard of this book before Heather, but I so adore a book that can make me laugh! I love too that you were able to read this one without having read the books before it and not be lost. Bring on the romance!

    1. Jenny-
      I hadn't either until I was contacted by the author. I was reluctant because it was the fourth book and I knew I couldn't fit all the books in before release date. But this is a quick read and you really don't feel lost. And yes, Russel is so funny. You know I love humor too! He isn't snarky, he's funny.
      And I appreciate the ability to write humor because I have no talent for that. You will adore Russel.

  3. I haven't heard of this series before. Sounds like a winner! It also sounds like a great character book. I don't read much contemp YA, but this one sounds like something I could have a go at and enjoy.

    1. Melissa- I read this one in an afternoon. It was really quick and fun. It's a good story, but not a heavy story. There's a nice life lesson-The Elephant of Surprise- and I can't explain that to you without several pages worth of quotes and writing. You'll just have to read it. But I guarantee you, (and I know how you like to read out of order) this one you can read and understand what's going on. But I think the whole series is going to be worth it!

  4. Well look at you going all fan girly over a book that you read out of order and haven't read the rest of the series. It sounds like a lot of fun and I am totally up for funny! The cover is a little weird though. I will have to look up this series since you praised this book so highly!

    1. Heidi- Notice no spam, had to go to comment moderation. I am fan girly! I have a crush on Russel! I think he'd be accepting of it. I do have The Geography Club to read and I plan to read the whole series. My 13 yr old son read it and loved it! He hasn't read this one though because it's on my Kindle and I just don't let him have my electronics.

      I don't read out of order, but the author said it was fine. I knew I wouldn't be able to read all the books before the release date of this one so I was worried. No worries. But yes, the whole series is going to be worth it.

  5. Wow, I didn't really consider reading this until now and I'm suddenly feeling a VERY strong urge to read it! I'm going to have to look up the first one though, it kills me to read out of order! But wow, what a wonderful review! I'm super excited now cause this sounds like something I would really love!

    1. Candace- I'm serious about reading it and not feeling lost. There is a little synopsis of each of the previous books under a section called "Previously" to get you up to date. I do think some things might have made more of a emotional impact on me if I had read the complete series, but as you can tell, I LOVED this book. I would love to have Russel for a friend. Not sure if I could handle Min, I'd have to read more about her. And I've already got a budding Gunnar. lol


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