The Elephant of Surprise

The Elephant of Surprise - Brent Hartinger

The Elephant of Surprise by Brent Hartinger is the fourth book in the Russel Middlebrook series, but don’t worry, it’s a stand alone! I’ve only read the first book, Geography Club, so this was partially a test of how it read as a stand alone ;-). While the first book of this series focuses on the hardships of gay teens in an unwelcoming high school, The Elephant of Surprise tackles a completely separate idea. This book focuses on the “freeganism” movement and the characters’ sexuality takes much more of a back seat. Yes, there is some relationship drama involving girls dating girls and boys liking boys, but not nearly as much as Geography Club. If you like light, contemporary reads with more diverse characters than normal, definitely check out The Elephant of Surprise.

I received The Elephant of Surprise through Netgalley and Brent Hartinger in exchange for an honest review.
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Title: The Elephant of Surprise
Author: Brent Hartinger
Length: 239 pages
Genre-ish: YA LGBT contemporary
Rating★★★light and fun, a little repetitive

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

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? – Goodreads


  •  As someone who has never learned much about freeganism before, The Elephant of Surprise was a surprisingly nice intro to a real life movement.
  • Something a lot of series novels run into is a repetitive plot arc, however The Elephant of Surprise took a completely different direction than I expected. It was nice that the focus wasn’t just on getting Russel a boyfriend ;-).
  • I’m always happy to see healthy relationships, and there is a great example of a healthy way to break up in this one!
  • As always, the writing of The Elephant of Surprise was light and fun. It was very easy to read just one more page while riding in the car or waiting for food at a restaurant, haha.
  • I got caught up on the characters’ lives quickly, no need to have read the previous books. It’s so nice when a stand alone is actually a stand alone, though I think you’ll connect deeper with everyone if you do read the earlier books.
The Elephant of Surprise by Brent Hartinger

Me when Russel started committing crimes….


  • There were some phrases that got quite repetitive, including The Elephant of Surprise. I prefer subtler uses of titles personally.
  • While there were some good relationship decisions, there were also some very bad ones that included all sorts of illegal activity. Russel, there is a difference between helping your friends like a good person and committing crimes for your friends!
  • Russel get a bit overdramatic in The Elephant of Surprise. Yes, some dramatic things happen, but he also has some pretty dramatic inner dialogue that we are privy to.


The Elephant of Surprise is light, fun, and just a wee bit silly. On top of that, however, I learned new things, crazy huh? Whether you’ve read the previous books or not, if you like high school adventures, you will likely enjoy The Elephant of Surprise. It actually made me want to go back and read the two I skipped to find out more about the summer camp adventures I’ve been hearing so much about, haha!