I was delighted to take a break from my research work — not that I don’t love it, but you know what they say about all work and no play — to read a book with a great title. You know I can’t bypass a book with a title that jumps out at me.

Elephant Milk, by Diane Sherry Case, is more than just a great title. The main character and narrator, Sean, is a seventeen-year-old whose spirit evoked memories of my own late teenage years. Like many seventeen-year-olds, Sean falls in love fast and hard, and doesn’t want to let go no matter where that love takes her. And it certainly does take her places. She follows her first lover, Frank, south of the border after an unfortunate and embarrassing brush with showbiz, and in her pursuit, joins a small traveling circus as a means of going from town to town to search for him. Her passion for him springs partially out of a desire to escape an unstable family life, led by a mother who seems to have things other than her daughter’s best interests on her mind. That same passion causes her to throw herself into whatever she finds herself doing, whether it is being held up by the strong man, facing lions, balancing on top of an elephant, or having knives thrown at her body.

Her journey launches her into rather unconventional coming-of-age transformation. On her way, she meets many characters, each one alluringly presented through Sean’s seventeen-year-old eyes, which, despite the things she has been through, are still naive. Things begin to unravel for her at the circus once she is officially, and somewhat publicly, made the “other woman” of the strong man. Although his wife understands her predicament, she is none too happy about the situation. And to top it off, a crazed male elephant escapes from the circus and runs amok in the Mexican jungle. It is only after Sean faces a machine gun in the hands of her lover’s girlfriend that she comes into her own and finds “something bigger and more ancient than romance.” The final scene is triumphant, bittersweet, and powerful.

Readers will find complex relationships masked by a fairly simple plot line, and, dare I say, symbolism, within these pages. The quick pace and honest storytelling style keeps you on your toes and anxious about the next turn down Sean’s path. There is a piece of everyone’s teenage idealism in this character, and it’s exciting to discover what can happen when you “follow your heart,” as Sean vows to do, and live without regret.

Bottom line: Fantastic and fresh. Definitely worth a read.

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