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The Elephant of Surprise (Russel Middlebrook #4)

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  924 Ratings  ·  119 Reviews
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 Sco
Paperback, 239 pages
Published March 30th 2013 by Buddha Kitty Books (first published February 7th 2013)
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Rating details
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Kaje Harper
Mar 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: light, m-m, ya
4.5 stars rounded up.

This is the fourth book in the Russel Middlebrook YA series. If you haven't yet read the award-winning first book, Geography Club, you should start there. The characters learn and grow throughout the series. That book will introduce you to Russel, and to his wide-eyed, fun and engaging narrative voice. Russel is a young man learning how to navigate the world, trying to fit his desires, his curiosity and his good intentions alongside his worries, mistakes and tendency to be o
Apr 15, 2015 rated it it was ok


What a disappointment!
The last book in the series is the weakest for me.
I think I'm at least 50 years too old for this kind of fiction.
Even if I'd get into minus range.

I only managed to finish it because I listened to it.
Elizabeth (Liz)
Review posted at: Swept Away By Romance

4.5 Stars

Russel Middlebrook and his two best friends, Min and Gunnar, are high school students. The three are inseparable, and they each bring something unique to their relationship. They support one another no matter what...even when it's a really bad idea. When change comes to each of their lives, good or bad, the three band together. They've taken to referring to life's tendency to NEVER turn out as expected as the Elephant of Surprise, and that elephant
Mar 26, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Jun 03, 2013 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ulysses Dietz
Mar 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
"The Elephant of Surprise" has been long anticipated by impatient Brent Hartinger fans - and many of us are adults who are more generally fans of YA novels. Do we hope to recapture our own teen years (why would one ever want to do that?); or is it simply that one never forgets one's teen experiences, whether good or bad, no matter how much of life we have lived since? Whatever the reason for our ongoing interest in YA novels, Brent Hartinger never lets us down.

Russel Middlebrook is beginning to
Dec 22, 2013 rated it really liked it

Insightful and Witty

This book is a continuation of Russel, Gunnar and Min's story. At first I really don't get the title, The Elephant of Surprise? I thought it was Element of surprise. Now that I know I can't stop laughing.

This book is about that, The Elephant of Surprises in our lives. That you may or may not believe in fate, it can be a b*tch sometimes.

And Russel is tempting it. Soon after saying he is done with love he find himself having feelings for Wade, the mysterious activist guy. Reme
Feb 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Amy Metz
Feb 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Who says YA books are just for young adults? Brent Hartinger proves adults can like them too. I've read all four books in the Russel Middlebrook series and loved them all. Brent's characters become your friends, and his stories hold your interest. The series is one of those where you're sad when you get to the last page in book four, because you want to keep reading about these characters. I wouldn't want to be in high school again, but visiting there with Russel, Min, Gunnar, and the rest was a ...more
Vitor Martins
Terminei a primeira série do Russel Middlebrook, e estou de coração partido.

Esse último livro foi tão chato. O plot foi tão desinteressante. Uma grande bagunça envolvendo freeganismo (!!!), ataques terroristas, assaltos e traições. E eu não me interessei por nada.

Sei que existe uma outra trilogia, meio ~new adult~ que conta os 20 e poucos anos do Russel. Vou ler com certeza porque esse protagonista mora no meu coração. Mas eu espero que nesses próximos livros tenha mais Russel e Kevin porque at
May 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Russel wants adventure, and boy, does he get it! And not only because of romantic reasons: he and his friends meet a group of freegans (no, I didn't know either!) and the story plays out in unexpected ways. The strength of Brent Hartinger's series is that Russel and his friends do not exclusively mope about romantic dramas and issues - that they do to a high enough level to maintain interest on that score, but they experience other things to show that life (even teenage life) is not merely a set ...more
Michael Bowler
May 22, 2013 rated it it was ok
This is the 4th book to feature protagonist and narrator Russel Middlebrook and, in my opinion, the weakest. "The Geography Club" was terrific, and so was "The Order of the Poison Oak." The third, "Double Feature" and this one are less satisfying. Part of the problem is that all of these books take place over a span of maybe one year, or a bit more than that, and it all feels too compressed. I feel like, make this kid a senior and graduate him already! Anyway, in the first book he had a fling wi ...more
May 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Russel, Min, and Gunnar are back in their first outing since 2007's SPLIT SCREEN (now known as DOUBLE FEATURE). I haven't read DOUBLE FEATURE since 2007 so I was afraid I wouldn't remember anything. Luckily, THE ELEPHANT OF SURPRISE begins with a "Previously" reintroducing the characters and their dilemmas. With that brief reminder, diving into the book was quite easy.

Russel thinks that he's finally over Kevin. But he keeps spotting things that make him think Kevin might not be such a bad guy. M
Lorena Miyuki
May 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
Please, please, write another one, Brent!
I can't wait to know what happens after this! I think I'm really in love with Russel.

Acho que esse último livro é o único que se inicia claramente já resgatando as tramas apresentadas nos outros livros.
O nome, "The Elephant of Surprise", é uma metáfora para a expressão "o elemento surpresa" ("the element of surprise, no original em inglês), que é aquele detalhe que a vida sempre nos coloca para tornar nos eventos menos previsíveis, preenchendo ou n
Mar 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jon O
Mar 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: gay, teen, romance
Well, for one, I surely appreciated Geography Club. It was cute and funny. I have to confess that I liked The Order of the Poison Oak more, because at the end, Russel got what I was hoping for - a chance to have someone in his life to make him happy.

I did wish that this whole book would concentrate more on Russel and Kevin. Perhaps it was an attempt to inject educational stuff into the story line but I felt Wade was boring. And so were the freegans. I did not enjoy their involvement in the book.
Sarah Warn
Mar 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ya-fiction
Terrific addition to the series! All the relationship drama was fun, and learning about freegans was interesting. The Kevin-Otto-Russel triangle was intriguing, and Gunnar's obsession with posting everything he does online is (unfortunately) all too relevant. But my favorite character is still Min, so I was glad the book delved more into her relationship with Leah.

Overall, a great read!
Sep 21, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2-star, series
Not enough personal development, too much freeganism.
Evan Knudson
Dec 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
As I've begun to expect Brent has created another wonderful book about Russels life. Russel now begins to realize that life is not always easy to plan, but it's surprising. I won't lie there was a terribly heart breaking piece to this. I felt just as betrayed as both Russel and Min. Just as angry. Not only that but he educated us about a entirely new kind of lifestyle and philosophy of life, which I totally found engrossing and terribly interesting.Though he reminds us that their is a difference ...more
Becky Condit
Jul 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
The titular elephant of surprise in this fourth book of the Russel Middlebrook series, is the unexpected twists and turns that life throws your way, or as the cliché goes, life happens when you are making plans.
The book is generally optimistic, or as much as a chapter in the life of teenagers can be. When something tears at a heart there is always the knowledge that there is still hope for the future.
I’m not generally a reader of YA novels but this series spoke to me across the decades since my
Timothy Bannister
Nov 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book series is one of my favorites and this book ended how I wanted it to
Jun 03, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It had been a long while since I've read the first three books in the series. I'm glad it started out with a recap of all the past books, allowing me to feel up to speed. "The Elephant of Surprise" was a disappointing read and I had to push myself to finish it. The biggest reason I didn't care for the book was the "freeganism" topic. It came up throughout and felt like an unwarranted lecture. I remember liking Russel a lot in "The Geography Club" and "The Order of the Poison Oak", but I found my ...more
Will Lutes
May 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Okay I really, really wanted to love this book as I did the others. Unfortunately there was a huge disconnect with this latest (last?) entry in the Middlebrook series. First off, full disclosure: the writing was superb (as always with this series and author) so no surprise there. Min, Gunnar and Russel are all in prime form (I swear this is the gay Harry Potter series (even if Gunnar is the token straight) -- complete with the Ron, Harry, Hermione/Gunnar, Min, Russel trio setup).

[Spoilers Ahead]
Feb 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Okay so I'm gonna go all fan girly over this novel. I loved, loved, loved it! No, I haven't read any of the other novels in the series, but I wasn't at all lost. There is enough back story that I felt completely in the know as I read the story. Russel is the navigator of The Elephant of Surprise and I say it that way because he's kind of leading a double life. Don't worry his friends are, too, sort of. I love having Russel narrate because he talks to the reader asking us to agree with him. He is ...more
Karielle at Books à la Mode
Feb 26, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: blog
The Elephant of Surprise picks up about a year after where Geography Club left off, this time, introducing Russel and his crew to a strange, intriguing cult of freegans, who are principled selectivists who ONLY use what they need in life—or in other words, the unhygienic variation of vegans.

I do have to say I was a bit disappointed by this sequel, probably because of how much I loved the first book in the series. The Elephant of Surprise is fine as a stand-alone novel—I didn't have to read book
Jan 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
To begin with, I received an advanced read copy of this book from

This is the fourth book in the Russel Middlebrook series. And though I haven't read them all (I'm looking at you, The Order of the Poison Oak), I have read the other three and at this point I'm familiar enough with the characters to have an idea of what's going on.

I really enjoyed the Geography Club back when I first read it, and I tore through it quickly (which is easy because it isn't very long). A few years later
Sep 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Russel Middlebrook has always been a character I felt a strong connection to. He is the primary character in a series, which began with the Geography Club, by Brent Hartinger. Russle has always come across as a bit of an everyteen, and he reminds me a lot of the high school version of me. Well, at least me if I grew up in recent times.

Russel is gay, and the books have been following him through the coming out process and his first tentative steps in the area of relationships. He is currently in
Mar 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Cialina (Muggle-Born)
Feb 19, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2013, arc, read-ebook
I went through a phase in middle school where I gravitated towards a lot of LGBT-centered young adult novels. It’s how I discovered some of my favorite authors such as David Levithan, and it’s also how I discovered Geography Club by Brent Hartinger. After reading hundreds of books in the last decade, Geography Club is one of the handfuls that I still remember picking up.

Now, Brent Hartinger’s Georgraphy Club has been adapted into a feature film, releasing later this year, and he is releasing, Th
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I am Brent Hartinger, and I live to write.

For the last twenty years, I have made my living writing just about everything that involves words.

My latest project is a trilogy of "new adult" novels called Russel Middlebrook: The Futon Years. They're about a gay guy in his twenties, Russel Middlebrook, trying to make sense out of love and life.

The books in Russel Middlebrook: The Futon Years are:

* The
More about Brent Hartinger

Other books in the series

Russel Middlebrook (4 books)
  • Geography Club (Russel Middlebrook, #1)
  • The Order of the Poison Oak (Russel Middlebrook, #2)
  • Double Feature: Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies/Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies (Russel Middlebrook, #3)

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