1990 Honor: Afternoon of the Elves

VERDICT: Trash

Laurinda’s Rating: 2/5

Afternoon of the Elves is a challenging read. It’s a wee bit hard to categorize, but I’d slot it into magical realism, with an emphasis on the realism. Hillary hangs with the popular girls at school, until one day her neighbor Sarah-Jane invites her to see the elf village. Sarah-Jane lives on the fringes of society – none of her clothes fit well, her yard is unkempt, and no one sees her parents; given this, it’s shocking that she has no friends at school. Shocking, I say!

However, her acerbic invite to Hillary begins a friendship. Sarah-Jane’s incredible imagination convinces Hillary that there is a real elf village in Sarah-Jane’s overgrown back yard. Together, the girls make elf houses, construct a Ferris wheel, build a well, and put together other improvements for the elves.

Their relationship is troubled from the get-go. Sarah-Jane sometimes snaps for no reason. Then, she disappears from school. At first, Hillary believes the official story that Sarah-Jane has gone on a trip, but a chance encounter between Hillary’s father and Sarah-Jane breaks open that lie. Worried about her friend, Hillary sneaks over to her house to check on her, and enters when she finds an unlocked door. Inside, the house is nearly empty and freezing cold. As she creeps upstairs, Hillary swears there are elves in the house, even after she sees Sarah-Jane comforting her mother.

Although Sarah-Jane is initially upset at this invasion of privacy, she and Hillary soon reconcile. Hillary picks up feed for Sarah-Jane, snagging some money from her mom and shop lifting an item or two. Shortly thereafter, Hillary goes to spend lunch with Sarah-Jane on a snow day. She takes too long returning home, and her mother comes look. This leads to the discovery of Sarah-Jane’s situation, and the attendant chaos.

Sarah-Jane is removed from the house, apparently to live with relatives after a brief stint in an orphanage; her mother is sent to a facility. Hillary never sees either again, though she still feels the elf magic and salvages the elf village when Sarah-Jane’s home is being rehabbed for sale.

I’m honestly conflicted over this one. While I do think kids should read challenging books, the effort also needs to be “worth it” – backed by a strong plot. This read as a vehicle for a discussion of mental health issues and for their challenges, no matter how they’re handled. My heart broke for Sarah-Jane in both situations; no child should have to be a sole caregiver for their parent, but separation of a mother and daughter is also hard. The realistic elements were well enough executed that I did have strong opinions about characters. However, the addition of a fantasy element just made this an odd blend of moralism and fantasy, neither done well.

I can’t recommend this for many audiences. While it does accurately portray one situation in which a kid is dealing with great challenges, there are more modern, better written titles which do it better. If magical realism and social issues both appeal to you, maybe give it a try.

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