GENRE: Middle grade science fantasy
Adventurous ten-year-old Elvia is sick of her dull-as-dishwater existence, suffocating under the stifling watch her overprotective parents. She longs for a different life, with more freedom and fun. But she gets more than she bargains for when she discovers an alarming family secret and is swept away on an adventure 64,000 light years from Earth.
Tanzanian witch doctors, child-eating lions, and submarine exploration on a two-mooned planet enliven this science fiction fantasy adventure, the third in Ballard’s award-winning Tales by Moons-light series.
It was on an otherwise ordinary Friday afternoon in summer, two weeks after her tenth birthday, that Elvia learned, with a thrill, that she was someone else.
Her mother’s carefully tended sunflowers— precisely pruned to four feet, and not a centimeter taller— peeked through the sunny western windows as Elvia eagerly sorted through the stack of mail that had just arrived. Her father’s work papers, organized in neat rows, sat on a desk in a far corner, a symbol of the carefully orchestrated life her parents liked to live. In Elvia’s dull-as-dishwater home, every day was the same—safe and predictable. There were rules: She could study the violin, but not play soccer. She could take a June class in jewelry-making, but not join her friends at Copper Creek Camp, where all the fun was. She could walk around town, but not ride a bike. She didn’t even have a bike! For a child who longed to roam the world, and maybe live on Mars one day, the list of forbidden pleasures was suffocating. There was only one way out of her dilemma, and, as she pawed through the letters, she hoped against hope that she’d find it.
The slender envelope, addressed to her, and her alone, was at the very bottom of the heap. Her hands trembled with excitement as she tore it open, sure it would explain why she had fiery red hair, while her parents both had mousy brown. It would expose how an adventuresome girl like her got saddled with parents who always hugged the safe shore, rarely taking her any further than the local Shop ’n Save for a “great deal” on paper towels.
The letter was from Quick Results, a DNA testing company operating out of somewhere in Kansas. A few weeks back, when she’d seen an ad online, she’d leapt at the chance. For just sixty dollars—her monthly allowance—she’d get confirmation of the truth that, to her, was obvious: She’d been switched at birth. Or perhaps she’d been kidnapped from her cradle and sold to Earl and Sally Hill, her parents, who were desperate for a baby after losing her older sister, Jane, to cancer, many years before. She didn’t ask herself why her orderly, rule-abiding father and mother would swing a heartless deal on the black market. Logic played no role in Elvia’s daydreams. It was the sense of adventure they brought her that mattered: the sweet promise that someone, somewhere, would rescue her from a life of crushing boredom.
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AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Children’s book author Dr. Ruth (Ruthy) Ballard is a scientist by trade who never thought she’d be one. Intimidated by science as a kid, she almost gave up on pursuing it as a career though she found it fascinating. Fortunately, a mentor stepped in and showed her the way. Now, she’s passionate about doing the same for the next generation of science shy, but creative, smart and capable kids. Her award-winning science fantasy adventures lure children in with compelling characters and entertaining, twisty plots that incorporate science in fun, accessible ways.
When Ruthy isn’t writing, she is “Dr. Ruth Ballard,” a forensic DNA consultant and a professor at Sacramento State, where she runs a forensic biology research and training program while consulting with attorneys across the country on criminal cases involving DNA evidence. She’s also a folk artist who loves to draw, illustrates her own books, and enjoys hiking and camping with her husband and their four dogs near their home on the Oregon coast.
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Elvia and the Gift of Passion by Ruthie Ballard follows discontented ten-year-old Elvia who yearns to escape from her overprotective parents and have adventures. An unexpected trip to Tanzania grants her wish in a very unusual way.
This middle grade story is thought-provoking and fantastical and a little macabre, and definitely not a plug for tourism to the country of Tanzania. I enjoyed the overall journey as Tavia has her adventures and learns about perception and caring for the feelings of others as well as herself. The imaginative aspects of Urth and its inhabitants, the concept of “uppies” and “findlings”, and the descriptions of the travel on Urth is vivid and compelling, and full of fun twists and turns, and I had fun with the anagrams of various characters’ names.
Certain parts of the story are disconcerting for me, including the nonchalant discussions about lion (or other big cats’) predation upon children and the attendant responses, and the challenges on the submarine were particularly relevant to today’s sorrowful headlines. I am also disappointed that so many of the natives are two-dimensional and were not shown in a particularly favorable light.
I think that kids will get a kick out of Elvia’s adventures and will probably connect to that frustration with parents that make one wish to trade them in for a better model. There are many lessons, both scientific and ethical, that are deftly conveyed in a fun and entertaining manner, and I hope that readers will be prompted to explore more about the concepts presented in this story.
A copy of this title was provided for review