Book cover: Chainedby Marsha Rakestraw and Lauren Allison

In the book Chained by Lynne Kelly (2012), in order to help his sick sister and to protect his mother from an abusive employer, Hastin gets a job as an elephant caretaker in a circus.

But as soon as he arrives at the circus, he knows he has made a terrible mistake. His boss, Timir, has a temper and wants Hastin to help him trap a wild elephant for the circus.

Hastin falls in love with the wild elephants and is heartbroken when his young elephant friend, Nandita, is caught in the trap.

Nandita is chained and the elephant trainer, Sharad, breaks Nandita’s spirit and hurts her in his goal to force her to become a circus elephant.

The only thing that helps Hastin endure his own and Nandita’s suffering is Ne Min, a wise old man who works in the kitchen and helps Hastin tend to Nandita’s wounds.

When Hastin realizes that Timir will never release him, and will always be cruel to Nandita, he knows they must both get away. As Hastin stands up for Nandita and Nandita protects Hastin, readers learn not only about courage, but about the bond between beings of all shapes, sizes, and species.

Chained not only offers a passionate, well-written and touching story, but is a meaningful springboard for discussion and exploration of several issues, from animal captivity and abuse to child labor.

It provides a great mix of reverence for animals and compassion for our fellow humans, and through messages at the beginning of each chapter about the behavior of elephants, readers become more aware of how much we have in common with our nonhuman animal brethren.

It’s also a great selection for book clubs.