The Elephant of Surprise

The Elephant of Surprise

4.2 13
by Brent Hartinger

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Book 4 in the Lambda Award-winning Russel Middlebrook Series!

People aren't always what they seem to be. Sometimes we even surprise ourselves.

So discovers seventeen-year-old Russel Middlebrook in The Elephant of Surprise, a stand-alone sequel to Brent Hartinger's landmark 2003 gay young adult novel Geography Club (which has now been adapted as a


Book 4 in the Lambda Award-winning Russel Middlebrook Series!

People aren't always what they seem to be. Sometimes we even surprise ourselves.

So discovers seventeen-year-old Russel Middlebrook in The Elephant of Surprise, a stand-alone sequel to Brent Hartinger's landmark 2003 gay young adult novel Geography Club (which has now been adapted as a feature film co-starring Scott Bakula and Nikki Blonsky).

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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Funny, openly gay high school junior Russel Middlebrook—the star of Hartinger's Geography Club and two sequels—finds the adventure he is looking for when he falls for an anti-consumerist freegan who pops out of the school Dumpster. Through Wade, Russel is exposed to new experiences (like eating roadkill) and challenging ideas ("When you don't spend your whole life looking at a television or a computer screen, you can't help but take a good look at the world”). But just as their relationship turns romantic, Russel's friend Gunnar suspects that Wade and his freegan friends may be taking their beliefs to a dangerous extreme. This is an unusual story line, but, like Russel, readers may find themselves intrigued by Wade's lifestyle and beliefs. Secondary plot lines (including one about Russel's possible reconciliation with his first love, Kevin) supplement the core drama, and teens will continue to enjoy Russel's ever-humorous narration, which includes direct conversation with readers. After eating barbecued raccoon with Wade, Russel says, "If it doesn't sound romantic, you'll just have to take my word for it, because it totally, TOTALLY was.” Ages 12–up.
Children's Literature - Denise Hartzler
Russel is a junior in high school, facing the realization that his relationship with boyfriend Otto has downshifted from "great, odds-overcoming love" to the dreaded, chat-room based "friend zone." With his friends Min and Gunnar in complicated relationships of their own, Russel decides that romance is simply not worth the bother and declares himself "done with love" even as he is gravitating towards ex-boyfriend Kevin. His anti-love stance soon takes a detour because of a chance encounter with a young man named Wade, an obviously intelligent and highly attractive Freegan. Freegans are a group of people who are "anti-consumerist" and only use or consume food, clothing, and other items that have been donated or discarded. Despite not knowing whether Wade is gay, bisexual, or straight, Russel finds himself hanging out at trash sites and scoping homeless encampments hoping to see Wade again. Brent Hartinger creates a world that is realistic and appropriate to the age group he is writing for and about. Hartinger is not afraid to make his protagonist look and sound a little foolish. Russel narrates the story, so we are with the character every step of his journey, even while he is about to make mistakes. Through it all, Russel remains a young guy trying to do the right thing for himself and the people he cares about. While he sometimes misses the mark, he tries hard and, more often than not, succeeds. That spirit is not only a significant part of the character's charm; it is also a crucial element that makes Hartinger's series unique and special. Hartinger's storytelling is alive and uplifting. Readers do not have to read the previous three books in this series. Not only does Hartinger write the story as a stand-alone book but also he does provide readers with a brief synopsis of the three book. Book four in the "Russel Middlebrook" series. Reviewer: Denise Hartzler
Kirkus Reviews
In Hartinger's (The Order of the Poison Oak, 2005, etc.) newest YA installment in the Russel Middlebrook series, Russel finds his wishes for adventure unexpectedly granted in the form of a counterculture-loving, Dumpster-diving new guy. While instant messaging his boyfriend--Otto, who's 800 miles away but a great friend--Russel suddenly realizes they've become just friends. Otto understands that Russel wants more than text on the screen, so they decide to break up. This is just what Russel needs: an opportunity to forsake love and welcome adventure. Yet not 24 hours after breaking up with Otto, and despite his claims against love and guys, Russel finds himself guiltily, and weirdly, attracted to Wade, a tight-shirt–wearing, beefy, black 19-year-old who pops out of a Dumpster. Wade is a "freegan" living off society's refuse and discarded consumerism, though he's not a bum or homeless. Rather, he's smart and invigorating--just the kind of adventure Russel has been looking for. But perhaps too much of one. In true-to-character, first-person prose, Hartinger reveals the psychological and social conundrums of a lovesick, somewhat self-involved gay boy in high school. Teenage readers, homosexual or not, will find the confident, slang-heavy prose easy to understand, especially since Russel's and his friends' mindsets are warmly personal yet identifiable. When Russel's life doesn't go exactly as he expects, Hartinger shows how "the planet exploded, and the sun winked out, and gravity stopped working, and our entire solar system was sucked into a big black hole." Along with the edifying main plotline, which will appeal to readers of any age, the well-conceived subplots won't disappoint young readers looking for the juicy gossip that runs through the series. With Russel, there's always drama--real and perceived--but definitely no lack of love. Fans of the series will revel in this smart, quirky YA novel that's ripe with substance beyond the surface.

Product Details

CreateSpace Publishing
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
13 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

Brent Hartinger is an author, playwright, and screenwriter. Geography Club, the first book in his Lambda Award-winning Russel Middlebrook Series, is now a feature film co-starring Scott Bakula and Nikki Blonsky.

In 1990, Brent helped found one of the world's first gay teen support groups, in his hometown of Tacoma, Washington. In 2005, he co-founded the entertainment website, which was sold to MTV/Viacom in 2006. Read more by and about Brent, or contact him at

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The Elephant of Surprise 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
LindaJoySingletonCA More than 1 year ago
I've been a fan of Brent Hartinger since THE GEOGRAPHY CLUB, which I'm delighted to hear is going to be a movie (yay!). His characters are fascinating, fun and realistic. As for the theme of this book, surprises, there are a lot of them in this story. While Russell deals with issues of dating, heartbreak and love, he finds himself drawn into a group of teen freegans, shocked at this very different side of life where scavenging for food, roadkill and wild weeds are everyday meals. When things get dangerous, Russell discovers new strengths in himself -- and his friends. A WONDERFUL book about alternate lifestyles and teen romance. Don't miss it!
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crayolakym More than 1 year ago
Being a teenager is struggle enough, but add to it being a gay male and you’ve just unleashed Pandora’s box in a world where it’s hard enough being the norm, much less to add the extras of religion, politics, sexual preference, and trying to find oneself and fit in. The author does a perfect job making this a standalone book and gives readers an informal backdrop on each of the characters so the book moves fluidly along without any questioning. “Why all the sudden interest in Kevin? Are you saying you wanna get back together with him?” Russell Middlebrook is openly gay, but like most high school age kids, he hasn’t quite figured out the love and emotions part yet, but it’s harder to find a more dedicated friend than he. Their story is really just the tale of any ordinary teen, in spite of their sexuality, and the group of friends and foes as they go through life thinking they are invincible, responsible, and wiser then adults, yet don’t actually relate to adults at all. And that’s the point. That is what makes this such a great book and so hard to put down. This is a quick read,  making it perfect for busy teens to squeeze in a little reading time. I definitely recommend picking this book up! *This book was provided in exchange for an honest review*     *You can view the original review at Musing with Crayolakym and San Francisco & Sacramento City Book Review
CrystalMarie218 More than 1 year ago
3.5 Stars from me! Ever started to read a book thinking that it was about one thing and find out that it’s something completely different? This is that type of book for me by far. I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting with this book, but I sure wasn’t expecting a lesson in life! The Elephant of Surprise could have been about anything at all, but in the case of this book, I was surprised to learn about the Freegans. I didn’t know anything about them, yet I learned a lot about them in this story. I think that this book was more an educational type read than anything else. Sure there is the drama and romance that takes place with the typical teenagers’ hormones. Of course the breaking and entering that always takes place as well ;) Overall if you are looking to expand your horizons and learn about a different lifestyle, this is the book for you. Review provided by Crystal's Many Reviews
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My favorite in the series so far.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My favorite of the Russel Middlebrook books so far.
Lindie_Dagenhart More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
shirley_frances More than 1 year ago
Russel wants an adventure and he finds it in The Elephant of Surprise. After a brief romance with fellow student Kevin, Russel has found a long-distance boyfriend he met during the summer. Kevin and Otto have a comfortable relationship mostly based on mutual friendship and when both realize that the spark of their relationship has fizzled they decide to part as friends. Soon after Kevin renounces love and romance. Gunnar, one of his best friends, points out to him that he is just tempting fate to mess with his love life. And he is correct - partially. What follows are a set of events and introductions of interesting characters that in one way or another affect Russel and his friends. We get to meet Wade, a 'freegan' who makes an impression on Russel from the moment they meet and form a special friendship - one that Russel would like to make more special if given the chance. Then there's Venus, another 'freegan' who plays a major role in the story too. Gunner is involved in a brand new project that most everyone dismissed but comes to play an integral part later on in the story. At last there's Min who is struggling with her relationship with Leah, which leads to a funny recon mission. The Elephant of Surprise deals mainly with how events and people can come into your life unexpectedly and bring with them new experiences, thoughts and feelings that you were unaware of before. This is the first book I have read from Brent Hartinger and I found that the writing was funny, engaging and entertaining. I read this book in one sitting because truly I could not get enough of Russel's voice. I enjoyed his laid back but honest attitude and the easy manner in which he interacted with his friends. His interactions with the other characters was fun to read because it revealed a different side of him. Although this is the fourth book in the Russel Middlebrook series it can be read as a stand alone. The book includes a summary of what happened in other books and the author does a great job of providing enough back story for you to follow along without feeling overwhelmed. All in all, The Elephant of Surprised is a funny, light read to be enjoyed by both young adults and adults alike. I received this title from Buddha Kitty Books through NetGalley in exchange of my honest opinion.
fuzzmom More than 1 year ago
Russel has two really great friends, Min and Gunther.Each is very individual, but they accept each other for just who they are. Russel is gay, Gunther is a brainy geek (sort of) and Min is well, just Min! They are dealing with their lives full at the moment with the "Elephant of Surprise"! Is it a good thing? or a bad thing? Or maybe it's both. A great story of love, lost love, found love and all of life in between. Part of a Series (The Russel Middlebrook Series) But is a good stand alone story as well. These are kids you want to be friends with, you want them to be happy and you hurt for them when they hurt.