Book Four in the Russel Middlebrook series
By Brent Hartinger
Available now from Buddha Kitty Books
Russel, Min, and Gunnar are back in their first outing since 2007's SPLIT SCREEN (now known as DOUBLE FEATURE). I haven't read DOUBLE FEATURE since 2007 so I was afraid I wouldn't remember anything. Luckily, THE ELEPHANT OF SURPRISE begins with a "Previously" reintroducing the characters and their dilemmas. With that brief reminder, diving into the book was quite easy.
Russel thinks that he's finally over Kevin. But he keeps spotting things that make him think Kevin might not be such a bad guy. Min thinks her girlfriend, Leah, is keeping secrets and enlists Russel and Gunnar to help her find out the truth. Gunnar, meanwhile, has started a strange photoblog that he's quite devoted to. Then the friends meet a group of freegans - people who only live off of what they can get for free. Russel is instantly attracted to Wade, one of the groups leaders.
I liked that each of the friends got their own storyline, even though Russel's is the primary one and takes up the majority of the book. I also liked that THE ELEPHANT OF SURPRISE brings on of the series' main storylines to a close. I didn't like where Min's story went, however. I felt like her plot got dropped part of the way through the novel, which makes me sad because I love her and her sharp sense of humor.
The freegans where an interesting touch to the story. I certainly don't find their lifestyle appealing, but there are some valid points in their philosophy and it's easy to see why Russel is interested in learning more - beyond impressing the cute boy. It also pays off in ways I didn't expect, giving THE ELEPHANT OF SURPRISE the biggest and most exciting climax of the four novels.
THE ELEPHANT OF SURPRISE fits in well with the rest of the Russel Middlebrook series, almost as if there wasn't a large gap between the release of books three and four. It's a cute story and an easy read. There's a diverse cast and the side characters have a nice amount of development. I love how important Gunnar is now, the little weirdo. He's come a long way from the kid who though he was actually joining a Geography Club. GEOGRAPHY CLUB will always be the standout entry in the series, but I don't think THE ELEPHANT OF SURPRISE will be a disappointment to fans.