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The Copper Elephant

The Copper Elephant

4.0 1
by Adam Rapp

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“I got lucky cause I’m small.” Eleven-year-old Whensday Bluehouse knows that this is why Tick Burrowman chose her. The old coffinmaker saved her from slave labor, but Whensday’s fate in the toxic wasteland called the Shelf is uncertain. In a post-apocalyptic world, Whensday learns about love, loss, and survival.


“I got lucky cause I’m small.” Eleven-year-old Whensday Bluehouse knows that this is why Tick Burrowman chose her. The old coffinmaker saved her from slave labor, but Whensday’s fate in the toxic wasteland called the Shelf is uncertain. In a post-apocalyptic world, Whensday learns about love, loss, and survival.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Poison rains are assaulting the rapidly decaying earth, and brutal soldiers control what is left of the population. "As ominous and as skillful in its creation of dialect as Rapp's The Buffalo Tree, this dystopian adventure may be too hermetic to welcome a wide readership," wrote PW. Ages 13-up. (Mar.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
As ominous and as skillful in its creation of dialect as his The Buffalo Tree, Rapp's dystopian adventure may be too hermetic to welcome a wide readership. The earth is rapidly decaying and is being assaulted by poison rains; brutal soldiers control what is left of the population by murdering the weak, sterilizing women and enslaving all orphans under the age of 12. Through luck and another character's perception that she is "special," Whensday, one of the luckier Undertwelves, manages to escape the fate of the Digit Kids who are worked to death in the Pits. She meets up with two fellow fugitives: Honeycut, a slow-witted 19-year-old who is sculpting a life-size elephant out of bits of foil, and Oakley, a younger orphan who awakens Whensday's maternal instincts as well as her sexuality. Glimmers of hope are few and far between and almost always undercut by frustratingly grim ironies. For example, Honeycut gets stoned to death after trying to save Whensday from a rapist. The bleak landscape is made even more difficult to comprehend by Whensday's impoverished language ("The Babymakers got a life hole where the Lost Men go lay"). Otherwise very well crafted, this story lacks a strong resolution; having exerted themselves to reach the finish line, readers may feel frustrated by the tentative ending. Ages 12-up. (Nov.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-Whensday, 11, lives near the Pits and not far from the Shelf, among the Bone Trees with Tick Burrowman, who makes body boxes for the children dying daily as a result of their underground forced labor. This polluted dystopia is undeniably brutal, dark, and grim. The acid rain is so strong it burns ungreased skin. Children are bought or bartered for by the wealthy and powerful. Whensday strikes out on her own, is raped, and sees her friend Joe Painter die when their attempt to escape across the river fails. She rails against God and finds no one to hear her prayers. The matter-of-fact first-person narrative is intense, devoid of quotation marks, and larded with descriptive slang such as "dooks" (excrement), "dinker" (penis), and "bloody jellyfishes" (her menstrual flow) that will challenge readers. It credibly communicates the innocence/ignorance and self-centeredness of Whensday and her community of outcasts. Amid the debris, the children develop friendships, experience love, share first kisses, and find occasional humor. While the subject matter is wretched, Rapp's "future speak" becomes almost melodic while describing events, feelings, and actions that are raw, searing, violent, and frightening. Less successful is the author's development of this future world. Other than establishing that it is cruel, ugly, and difficult, there is little sense of place for readers to get a hold of and many will give up in frustration. Yet for those readers who can bear to finish this novel, there is a positive message: despite all odds, survival, even in these worst of circumstances, is possible.-Joel Shoemaker, Southeast Jr. High School, Iowa City, IA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Highlights Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)
1020L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Bodyboxes

They're burning tires in the Pits again. I can't see them cause I'm hided, but I can smell them all thick and hot and fiery like pepper and smoke and wet thunderhorses mixed together. Tick Burrowman says the tires look like little halos floating in the dark, like some angels is lost in all that blackness. Tick Burrowman says burning tires keeps the fishflies away.

The Digit Kids is down there busting rocks. You can hear their splittingpicks going ballistic like little blasterguns popping off far far away, like in some place you read about in a story. Shale Bluehouse is down there. Shale's my best friend and we was both Bluehouse kids at the Holy Family Agency and we used to give each other pens and paperclips and other stuff we'd find, but now he's down in the Pits busting rocks with all the other Digit Kids. Murl Greenhouse and Spider Brownhouse is down there too, but Murl and Spider don't make me sad the way Shale does cause they was always poking you with forks and sitting on you and stuff. Whenever I hear the splittingpicks I picture Shale and it makes the muscles in my chest feel funny.

If you listen real careful you can hear the ditch dogs, too. You can hear them barking through their muzzlestraps. The Syndicate trains the ditch dogs to hunt the Undertwelves and the Elders. Sometimes their barks sound like the rocks getting busted and you can't tell what's rocks and what's ditch dogs, but it don't bother you too much if Tick Burrowman's singing a song or cleaning trees or having you wash water with him. It don't bother you too much if there's closer noises that's bigger than thebarks.

They'll make you a Digit Kid if you're a Undertwelve and you ain't taller than the Future Stick. The Future Stick's made out of metal and it's got this little edge at the top and if your head don't touch it they'll send you right to the Numbering Line. They'll send you to the Numbering Line if you got something wrong with you like a limp or a small hand, too. And if you slump or got bad teeth you might as well walk right over and give them your shoulder so they can start drawing that digit.

When a line of Digit Kids goes down into the Pits, you don't never see them come back up. Tick Burrowman says he's seen a couple of Digit Kids running all lost and swervy through the Bone Trees. He says he tried talking to them, too, but they just runned away like little lopsided ghosts. I ain't seen no Digit Kids running up out of the Pits. I ain't seen nothing like that.

If you get through the Bone Trees then you got to cross the Red River and if you cross the Red River you'll come to the Forsaken Lawn. The Forsaken Lawn's like a gazillion miles long, and on the other side is Toptown. No one really knows what Toptown is, but they talk about it the way they used to talk about birthdays and Christmas when birthdays and Christmas still meant something. They say Toptown's where the Creature Clouds stop and the Sun starts shining regular again.

There's sixteen minimonths now. There used to be twelve regular months, but all that changed after the Creature Clouds came. Tick Burrowman says it's cause the Moon croaked. He says the calendar makers from the Syndicate measure a month by the amount of light the Moon can make. And now it's like the Moon ain't even there no more, so they double the days and cut the weeks in half. There's two doubledays in a halfweek and two halfweeks in a minimonth.

It's been raining sixty-three doubledays straight. At forty-nine they thought it would stop. They thought it would stop at fifty-four too but it didn't.

Sometimes you think the rain's going to stop cause you can hear how it slows on the front of the life hole, but then it starts up again like it was just resting cause it got tired. Sometimes it sounds like little people running around. Like they're running around cause they can't find something they lost. Even though I'm in the back with the bodyboxes I can still hear the rain.

Tick Burrowman was cleaning trees on his planing table when Second Staff Brown came ducking through the front. Second Staff Brown's with the Syndicate and when he walks you can hear stuff jangling in his pockets.

There's this little hole in my bodybox where the wood went bad. You can look through the hole and under the curtain, but all you see is legs and feet. Legs and feet and Syndicate boots and the bottom of Second Staff Brown's greatcoat sweeping over the floor like a big falcon tail.

Second Staff Brown's got these pointy soles on his boots that look like burnt lion teeth. They're all white from the quickdust and if you stare at them too long it's like they don't got no legs or manparts attached to them. It's like they can roar at you by themselves.

Second Staff Brown comes up to check the bodyboxes and he's always drinking a glass of washed water from Tick Burrowman's sinkwell. If you don't wash the water you can get this thing called Blackfrost that will croak you in four days. It don't matter to Second Staff Brown that me and Tick Burrowman put all that time into boiling the rot out so we can have some clean water for later. Even though he don't know nothing about me — about how Tick Burrowman's hiding a Undertwelve in his life hole, and a girl Undertwelve at that — it don't matter to Second Staff Brown. To him it's like Tick Burrowman ain't really there, even though he says nice things to him and puts that music in his voice.

The Copper Elephant. Copyright © by Adam Rapp. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Adam Rapp is a playwright and author of two previous young adult novels, The Buffalo Tree and Missing the Piano, the latter named Best Book for Young Adults as well as a Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers by the American Library Association. He lives in New York City.

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The Copper Elephant 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago