1567 A Kenyan interlude

What’s in it for Me?
by LS Stone

Nanoose Bay: Rebel Mountain Press, 2021
$13.95 / 9781999241681

Reviewed by Cassidy Lea

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How many teens would like to spend their summer shovelling never-ending piles of elephant manure for free? What, no takers? Not even in a third world country? LS Stone’s main character, fifteen-year-old Nick Bannerman, isn’t too enthused about the idea either. But when a series of events land him at an elephant refuge in Thailand called Elephant Zion, Nick soon gains an understanding that broadens his world, and a courage that he never imagined he possessed.

All Nick wants out of the summer is to do some “serious partying” and to play in the metal band he and his best friend, Trevor, have started (p. 5). Trevor, on the other hand, wants to volunteer to build a school for three weeks in Africa — and he wants Nick to join him. Nick is totally against it, until he learns that the pretty new girl named Sheena is going to be going too. In a turn of events, Nick ends up going to Thailand instead, while Trevor goes off to Kenya. When Nick gets separated from his group, he finds himself at an elephant sanctuary working harder than he ever has in his life, but somehow he doesn’t want to be anywhere else. He’s learning a lot from the fiery teen Camila, who wants to become a mahout, or elephant trainer, even though the local mahout refuses to teach girls. As Nick works at the elephant sanctuary and grapples with issues surrounding animal rights, activist extremists, and the logistics of running an elephant sanctuary, he also starts to gain a greater appreciation for his own life back in Canada, and how he can make a difference in the world. Maybe there’s hope he’ll turn into a “do-gooder” like Trevor after all.

LS Stone (right) and friends

What’s in it for Me? is a quick read that is sure to engage animal lovers and that will help educate teens (and adults for that matter) about some of the nuanced issues affecting elephant refuges. And the issues are certainly nuanced. I appreciated that Stone addressed issues of chaining elephants, drugging large animals, and the ethical considerations that go along with those decisions. These are important debates that require understanding and that can’t necessarily be solved by a “one size fits all” approach. While the main story of What’s in it for Me? focuses on Nick’s experience in Thailand with the elephants, Stone also includes snippets of his friend Trevor’s adventures in Kenya. Trevor is also coming face to face with some pressing issues, namely those of poverty and child soldiers. While no real solutions were proposed for the heartbreaking issue of child soldiering, this was one instance in the book where I felt that an issue raised — the difficulties that contribute to the horrifying reality of child soldiers — wasn’t adequately addressed. Although this was a much smaller aspect of the story, I felt that such a big topic merited more than the somewhat simplistic overview that was presented in What’s in it for Me? While Stone did her best to address this with compassion and discernment, I felt that the same attention devoted to elephant chaining might have been applied to the use of child soldiers.

LS Stone perfectly captures the voice and perspective of a teenager. Nick in particular embodies the rather narrow-minded and self-centred ignorance of many North American teens. Despite his initial self-interest, Stone does a good job of making Nick a character at once real and sympathetic. He voices the concerns and worries that most of us have when it comes to volunteering abroad, but he also possesses a general care for people and for animals, along with just enough self-awareness to make him a character readers can root for. Seeing Nick grow and change throughout the novel will inspire readers to empathize with his personal journey, and might even convince teens to volunteer at an elephant refuge or even build a school in Kenya.

All readers, teenaged or otherwise, will leave What’s in it for Me? feeling both challenged and empowered to make a difference in the world. The opportunities are endless, the needs are great, and the experiences will last a lifetime. So the question is, what about you? Will you have the courage to go out and change the world?

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Cassidy Lea

Cassidy Lea is a Thompson Rivers University Alumnus with a double Major in English and Psychology. She loves reading and writing, but isn’t too fond of arithmetic. She enjoys going for walks, curling up with a good book, and spending time with her family. Editor’s note: Cassidy Lea has also reviewed books by Trevor Atkins, Frances Greenslade, and — writing as Cassidy Jean — Natelle Fitzgerald for The British Columbia Review.

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The British Columbia Review

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.

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