By Diane Hammond
Published September 2008 by Harper Collins
For forty-one years, Sam Brown has been caring for Hannah, the lone elephant at the Max L. Biedelman Zoo. Having vowed not to retire until an equally devoted caretaker is found to replace him, Sam rejoices when smart, compassionate Neva Wilson is hired as the assistant elephant keeper. Neva quickly discovers what Sam already knows: Hannah is isolated from other elephants and her feet are nearly ruined from standing on concrete all day. Neva and Sam hatch a plan to send Hannah to an elephant sanctuary—just as the zoo's angry, unhappy director launches an aggressive revitalization campaign that spotlights Hannah as the star attraction, inextricably tying Hannah's future to the fate of the Max L. Biedelman Zoo.
The book is also the story of Maxine (Max) Biedelman,who started the zoo on the grounds of her family's home with animals she rescued from Africa; Sam's wife, Corrine, who has been battling God since her only child died in birth; and Truman, the financial manager at the zoo, who is raising a son and a pot-bellied pig.
The cast of characters is large and writers often have a hard time fleshing so many characters out. Hammond gives all of her characters dimension. Each of them has a back story with some sadness or trauma and that could have gotten schmaltzy. It didn't. Even Hannah has a distinct personality and her relationship with Sam is so touching. The only character I felt could have been developed more was Neva's landlord--or he could have been left out entirely. Barne's and Noble's summary calls the book "charming, poignant, and captivating"--the very three words I would use to describe this book that, though slow moving, is never stagnant. I read this book as part of a book club and, to be honest, it's not a book I would have picked up on my own. Which would have been a shame. This book is one of my favorite books of the year--and I've read 65 books this year so it's no small feat to make that list.
Look here to see my book club's discussion of the book.