But that is not the case with The Hope of Elephants by Amanda Rawson Hill. Not only is the story line unique and compelling, the poetry is just beautiful. Take for instance this poem where the main character, Cass, and her father are having a conversation while they toss a baseball back and forth:
Can't you just imagine the ball going back and forth between Cass and her father? They are together digesting bad news in a way that makes sense to them. What is this bad news? The father has just been diagnosed with cancer...again. The doctors have just determined that the father has Li-Fraumeni Syndrome, a genetic condition which causes a predisposition to develop cancer, because of a lack of the the p53 gene. As the story progresses Cass discovers that the syndrome has a 50% genetic inheritance rate, meaning she has a 50/50 chance she has it also. As Cass is processing this new information and adjusting to their family life of extreme care not to transmit any random disease, like a cold, to her father, she learns of a study being done at the zoo in Salt Lake City on elephants. "Scientists link elephants' high resistance to cancer to their 20 copies of the p53 gene – the 'guardian of the genome' – compared with the single p53 gene found in other mammals." So far there is no cure coming toward humans from elephants, but who knows in the future?
Interestingly for me, my daughter is a genetic counselor and was able to explain many of the details of the Li-Fraumeni Syndrome to me and why it would probably be preferable for Cass to be tested early. One so she can participate in medical protocols on an accelerated schedule --blood tests, mammograms, colonoscopies, etc. -- for early detection. Two, so that the patient can make informed decisions about having/not having children. If Cass were to wait to fine out if she, too, has the syndrome, she might have a child who also has the syndrome and the patterns repeats. This is all stuff I learned from my daughter, which made the reading of the story more interesting to me. What a quandary for people in Cass's postion.
Lest you think this book sounds like a total drag, it really is a sweet coming-of-age story which includes aspects of family love, baseball, faith, and navigating friendships. Cass does a lot of growing during this story, too, which is always rewarding for readers.
There is one more reason I have such found spot in my heart for this book. My library didn't have a copy of it, so I checked the library catalog in Springfield, where we'd be visiting during Thanksgiving break. They had the book and I was able to check it out on my sister's card. I had to do some power reading every evening of our time in Oregon but I finished it in record time. Fortunately, it's target audience is middle grade readers. As I handed it back to my sister to return it for me, I recommended that she read it first!