Review: The Elephant of Surprise by Brent Hartinger

The Elephant of Surprise by Brent Hartinger

Title: The Elephant of Surprise
Series: Russel Middlebrook #4
Author: Brent Hartinger
Published: March 30th 2013 by Buddha Kitty Books
Genre: YA Contemporary LGBTQI
Source: Netgalley

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Book 1: Geography Club
Book 2: The Order of the Poison Oak
Book 3: Double Feature: Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies/Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies

In this latest book, Russel and his friends Min and Gunnar are laughing about something they call the Elephant of Surprise — the tendency for life to never turn out as expected. Sure enough, Russel soon happens upon a hot but mysterious homeless activist named Wade, even as he’s drawn back to an old flame named Kevin. Meanwhile, Min is learning surprising things about her girlfriend Leah, and Gunnar just wants to be left alone to pursue his latest technology obsession.

But the elephant is definitely on the move in all three of their lives. Just who is Wade and what are he and his friends planning? What is Leah hiding? And why is Gunnar taking naked pictures of Kevin in the shower?

The Elephant of Surprise includes Hartinger’s trademark combination of humor and romance, angst and optimism. Before the story is over, Russel and his friends will learn that the Elephant of Surprise really does appear when you least expect him—and that when he stomps on you, it really, really hurts

Last week, when I reviewed book #3 I expressed the hope that this book would be the one that blew me away. that I would finally get to rate something from this series with a 4 or 5. Did it? Will I?


I am kind of mad, actually. I had really, really high hopes for this one. To steal a thought from it, I wanted it to validate my existence by being awesome and making sticking with the series worth it. Instead it invalidated books 2 and 3 for me.

Reading this book was very much like being kicked back to book 2, The Order of the Poison Oak, only without the cool burn survivor kids that tugged at your heart strings. When the story line with Wade showed up, I let out a groan and just had this sinking feeling it was going to be a Web situation (see book 2). At this point I have given up caring who Russel ends up with, because he sure as hell has no idea what he wants and he’s likely to fall in and out of love with anyone at any time.

And then there’s Kevin Land. I was a big Kevin fan in book 1, even when he was a complete jerk. I liked him so much that I found the way things ended downright depressing. Book 2 featured no Kevin at all. Book 3 brought back Kevin, but a much changed one from what we saw in book 1, even if he still had the ability to distract Russel from absolutely everything in life. The Elephant of Surprise’s Kevin is the most disappointing Kevin of them all. He went from being an interesting guy, to being too nice. Too willing to sacrifice everything. I just didn’t root for him anymore.

There is one upside to this book. Gunnar! I am actually surprised by how much I’ve come to like him in the last two books. He’s had an amazing character arc, going from what I consider the worst friend in the world, to being the only character I didn’t want to kick in the butt.

I didn’t hate this book, as with the other books in the series, it reads easy and fast, and is amusing in places. I just didn’t love it either. Perhaps this series would have worked better for me if I had months/years between each book to dull my expectations, but I read it pretty much back to back. I don’t know if there are any more books planned, or if this wraps the series up, but I am personally walking away now.


Brent Hartinger is the author of a number of novels, mostly for and about teens, including Geography Club (HarperCollins, 2003) and three sequels: The Order of the Poison Oak (HarperCollins, 2005); Double Feature: Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies/Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies (HarperCollins, 2007); and The Elephant of Surprise (2013).

His other books include The Last Chance Texaco (HarperCollins, 2004); Grand & Humble (HarperCollins, January 2006); Project Sweet Life (HarperCollins, 2008); and Shadow Walkers (Flux Books, 2011).

Mr. Hartinger’s many writing honors include being named the winner of the Lambda Literary Award, the Scandiuzzi Children’s Book Award, a GLAAD Media Award, and a Book Sense Pick (four times).

A feature film version of his first novel, Geography Club, will be released in 2013, starring Scott Bakula and Nikki Blonsky.

Hartinger is also the author of many award-winning screenplays and plays, including a stage adaptation of Geography Club, which has received regional productions in Tacoma, Salt Lake City, Edmonton, and elsewhere. A feature film version of his play The Starfish Scream, which has also received many regional productions (and was twice produced Off-Off Broadway in New York), is in active development for a possible 2014 release.

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One Response to Review: The Elephant of Surprise by Brent Hartinger

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