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When Elephants Fly

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There are some battles worth fighting even if it means losing yourself.

T. Lily Decker is a high school senior with a twelve-year plan: avoid stress, drugs, alcohol and boyfriends, and take regular psych quizzes administered by her best friend, Sawyer, to make sure she's not developing schizophrenia.Genetics are not on Lily's side.

When she was seven, her mother, who had paranoid schizophrenia, tried to kill her. And a secret has revealed that Lily's odds are even worse than she thought. Still, there's a chance to avoid triggering the mental health condition, if Lily can live a careful life from ages eighteen to thirty, when schizophrenia most commonly manifests.

But when a newspaper internship results in Lily witnessing a mother elephant try to kill her three-week-old calf, Swifty, Lily can't abandon the story or the calf. With Swifty in danger of dying from grief, Lily must choose whether to risk everything, including her sanity and a first love, on a desperate road trip to save the calf's life, perhaps finding her own version of freedom along the way.

400 pages, Hardcover

First published September 4, 2018

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About the author

Nan Fischer

16 books295 followers
Welcome to my author page!

Here’s a bit about my books...

Novels under the name Nan Fischer:

The Book of Silver Linings (Berkley Publishing, August 15, 2023)

Some Of It Was Real (Berkley Publishing)

Novels under the name Nancy Richardson Fischer:

The Speed of Falling Objects (HarperCollins/Inkyard Press).
When Elephants Fly (HarperCollin/Inkyard Press.

Novels under the name Nancy Richardson:

Middle Grade:
Junior Jedi Knights Trilogy for LucasFilm (Berkeley Press).

Sport Autobiographies:
Feel No Fear, The Power, Passion and Politics of a Life in Gymnastics (Hyperion).
Riding For My Life (LIttle Brown)
Monica: From Fear to Victory (HarperCollins)
A Journey: The Autobiography of Apolo Anton Ohno (Simon & Schuster)
Nadia Comaneci: Letters to a Young Gymnast (Basic Books)
Winning Every Day with Shannon Miller (Bantam Books).

If you'd like to learn more about my novels, events, or sign up for my newsletter, please visit www.nancyrichardsonfischer.com

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 278 reviews
Profile Image for Fatma Al Zahraa Yehia.
399 reviews410 followers
August 2, 2022
بدون مقدمات تصارحنا البطلة في مستهل الرواية بمأساتها. في عيد ميلادها الثامن عشر تعرف "لي لي" أن الوحش الذي خافته طوال عمرها قد أصبح على بُعد خطوات منها. وفي محاولة عبثية منها للمقاومة، تضع خطة طويلة المدى لإثنى عشر عاما مقبلة، ستتفادى فيها العلاقات والمشروبات المنبهة والأطعمة الدسمة والسكريات والضغط النفسي وما يتلزمه ذلك من تجنبها لأي مجال دراسي أو عملي قد يعرضها للتوتر أو القلق.
حسب الخطة، ستتجنب الحياة وستكتفي بالعيش على هامشها إلى أن تبلغ الثلاثين وتتأكد أن الوحش قد ذهب بعيدا عنها الى غير رجعة.

نعرف مباشرة ان هذا الوحش هو مرض "الفصام" الذي يسري في جينات سيدات عائلتها من جهة الأم. الأم التي أهلك ذلك المرض عقلها اللامع وانتهى بها الى محاولة قتل ابنتها-لي لي بطلة القصة وهى في السابعة من عمرها-بدفعها من على حافة بنايتهم. تعرف "لي لي" أن احتمالات نجاتها من مصير أمها وبقية سيدات عائلتها المروع هى احتمالات واهية، ولذلك تتعامل مع الحياة بلامبالاة تليق بمحكوم عليه بالاعدام. وذلك إلى يضع القدر في طريقها "فيلة رضيعة" ولدت مؤخرا في حديقة حيوان مدينتهم.

لم أكف عن البكاء وانا استمع الى صوت "لي لي" الخائف من مستقبل مرعب، وماضٍ يسكنه لحظات جنون امها المؤلمة. أصابني الفزع معها وهى تستمع لأول "بسسست" تطن في أذنيها مؤذنة ببداية أول اعراض الهلوسة السمعية لهذا المرض. ويتزامن ذلك مع قرارها بأن تلقي وراء ظهرها كل المحاذير التي وضعتها لنفسها-ما هى خلاص كده كده خربانة-لكي تحاول أن تعطي كائنا أخر"الفيلة الرضيعة" الحب والحماية التي لم تستطع ان تنالهم في حياتها.

ألم شديد العذوبة لم يتركني وأنا أرى العالم الذي خلقته المؤلفة في تلك الرواية. الأبطال الذين جمعهم الحب وفرقهم أيضا. فوالد لي لي يعجزه خوفه عليها من مصير أمها عن اظهار مشاعر حبه لابنته، ولي لي بدورها تراه مسئولا بشكل كبير عن ما حدث لعائلتهم في الماضي وتضع بينها وبينه حاجزا منيعا عقابا له على عدم قدرته على حمايتها من نوبات جنون امها وهى صغيرة. تألمت وانا أرى لي لي شديدة الاستغراق في مأساتها لدرجة منعتها من ملاحظة ألم صديقها الوحيد "سوير" والذي يجسد نموذجا فريدا وجميلا للصديق الذي يعطي بلا حدود إلى أن يبتعد عندما يرى أن عطاؤه غير مُقدر ممن يمنح له هذا العطاء.

رحلة نضج تمر بها "لي لي" وتدفع ثمنها غاليا حتى تتمكن من أن تُقدر ما هو غال وثمين في حياتها التي لم تكن تراها جديرة أصلا بالبقاء فيها. ستتمكن من معرفة أن الحياة بها ما يستحق ان يُعاش من اجلها حتى وإن عاشت فيها بعقل ناقص ومشوه.

حقيقة أتمنى بشدة أن تترجم تلك الرواية الى العربية
Profile Image for Kaya.
364 reviews64 followers
July 20, 2018
My heart hurts. I have no words for what I've read, except possibly breathtaking. Powerful. Life-changing.

TW for suicide, abuse, schizophrenia, and animal abuse.

I'm not really sure what to say. That I infinitely prefer this book to Turtles All The Way Down? That reading from the perspective of Lily was just...eye-opening? Inspiring? Heartbreaking? I don't really think that words can adequately express what's running through my brain right now but I'll try.

I've never read a book that tackles schizophrenia before. Our main character, Lily, doesn't have it but her chances of getting it are pretty dang high. Her mom had it and tried to kill Lily when she was seven. All Lily has to do is avoid stress for twelve years of her life, and then she's free from the genetic curse. However, she's soon faced with decisions. Decisions that involve the welfare of a baby elephant, herself, her best friend, and so much more.

I'm not going to go into a ton of detail because it kinda spoils the book. The author consulted experts and did a ton of research on mental illness, but one thing she continually repeats throughout the book is that no mental illness is the same. Lily's story is actually inspired by two real-life events.

It's not just schizophrenia that's tackled in this book. There's so much more to this, that I honestly can't go over it all (spoilers!). I do think everyone ought to read this book for one simple reason:

It offers perspective.

Perspective into a life I personally can't imagine living. Perspective into the power of bravery, belief, hope, and doing what's right. Fans of Turtles All The Way Down should definitely pick this one up. I think the ending is actually kinda similar!

My main complaints with this book are the romance and the plot. I wasn't really a big fan of the romance but I that might just be me and my own personal preferences speaking. Aside from the lovey-dovey stuff, I also found the plot to be a bit slow and not enough to cover the full 400 pages.

There is great diversity, great character devlopment, hope and honesty. I loved this book and hope you do too!

4.5 Stars, and thank you Edelweiss and Harlequin Teen for providing me with an e-arc in exchange for an honest review!
December 11, 2018
This book was great. I didn't expect to like it so much! It was beautiful but heartbreaking. I'm not much of a contemporary reader but I love elephants, and like the main character, my mom is schizophrenic. Certain parts hit closer to home than I was prepared for.
Profile Image for PinkAmy loves books, cats and naps .
2,258 reviews216 followers
September 9, 2018
***My rating for this book is based primarily on the plot contrivances and mental health representation. I recognize this is a work of fiction but as a psychologist who has worked with schizophrenics I was angered from the start.

Lily has a strong family history of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders affecting the females on her maternal side. Her own mother nearly killed her chasing a delusion after going off her meds. Lily develops a plan to avoid getting schizophrenia, my first issue with the story.

Psychotic disorders aren’t preventable, other than those resulting from substances. The myth of sudden onset has been perpetrated in literature and even among some in the medical community who don’t understand the condition. Looking at histories, most of those with major mental illness like bipolar of schizophrenia, most describe difficulty with mood regulation and/or thought processes as early as infancy. While not predictive, because lots of kids have these issues, looking back the child described as ‘perfect with no problems before one day...” showed symptoms. Stress doesn’t cause schizophrenia, although stress does exacerbate symptoms of mental illness.

Lily, seeing the parallels of the baby elephant nearly being killed by its mother, jumps into action. Instead of being barred from the zoo, Lily, a minor, is charged with caring for the elephant. Her extremely terrible judgment should have been exclusionary. I have a close friend who’s been a zookeeper for 25 years. They don’t take kindly to risking the zoo’s reputation, even more than the risk to the minor.

While we’re talking about plot conveniences. Barely above average student Lily, who isn’t even on the school newspaper and has no experience in journalism, gets a coveted job at an actual newspaper beat out hundreds of applicants. She even refuses to write for her school paper, yet applies for a coveted spot at USC School of Journalism.

Mental illness is serious. Adequate representation is important. It’s not romantic or brave, though sometimes those with mental illness do brave things. Erratic behavior, even with a noble purpose isn’t noble.

WHEN ELEPHANTS FLY gives some great information on schizophrenia in the form of info dumps disguised as Lily’s research and knowledge. It’s too bad the plot is so contrived.

Aside from the mental illness aspect, the story of Swift Jones, the baby elephant is at times hard to read. I appreciate what Nancy Richardson Fischer tried to do with WHEN ELEPHANTS FLY. The strong quality of her writing and word building merits enough of a reason for me to try another book she writes, possibly.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
612 reviews28 followers
March 27, 2018
Such a GOOD book.....I laughed and I cried. Unusual story and so well written! Loved, loved, loved this book. Definitely recommend it! I started this book and could not put it down.
Profile Image for Jenna.
315 reviews331 followers
July 6, 2018
"The only promise with schizophrenia is that there's both hope and despair."

T. Lily Decker is an 18 year old girl living with a fear that I can't even begin to relate to - the fear that she, like most other women in many generations on her mothers side of the family, will develop schizophrenia. Instead of blowing out candles and celebrating her birthday party with friends, she spends her day soaking in the reality that she is now in the 12 year window where mental illnesses are most likely to rear their evil little heads. She is knows that hormones, genetics, stress, etc. can trigger the disease, so she is determined to live the next 12 years in a self created bubble that will keep her safe from the voices that may be living in her head.

Little does she know that her unpaid internship at a local newspaper is about to push her outside of her comfort zone and safe bubble. She comes up with the idea to hold a contest where people pay to name the new elephant calf at a nearby zoo, and from there, is catapulted into a beautiful journey of life and death, hope and despair, and learning how to cope with what she believes in impending doom.

While I can't relate to her specific problem, I can relate to her fear. The fear that you may lose yourself. The fear that your whole life can be turned upside down by something you cannot control. The feeling that you may wake up one day and never be yourself again. I think most everyone can relate to that fear, and Nancy Richardson Fischer's poetically crafted characters and tumultuous story kept me on edge until the very end of the book.

"When Elephants Fly" does not shy away from the reality that mental health is a very real, very prevalent issue in this day and age. It addresses head on what it is like to live in the mind of someone who is sick and what it is like to live with someone who is sick. This is a book that all high school students and beyond need to read to start to develop some empathy toward people who need it most. Start the conversation, and read the book.

*I was provided a free advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest feedback.*
Profile Image for Laurie.
Author 19 books3,317 followers
October 3, 2018
Two seemingly disparate storylines drew me to WHEN ELEPHANTS FLY - baby elephants (because, who doesn't love baby elephants?) and the promise of a narrative that sheds some light on one of the most widely misunderstood and stigmatized of illnesses - schizophrenia. I wasn't prepared for how well these two subjects are interwoven in this story. I also wasn't prepared to have this book reach out and grab firm hold of my heart about halfway through. Swifty, the baby elephant, is one of the most heartbreakingly adorable and vividly drawn characters I've encountered in YA lit, and her plight, as we travel with her and eighteen year old Lily from zoo to Florida circus is riveting. As is Lily's plight, caged as she is inside genetics that might strongly predispose her towards developing schizophrenia like her late mother. Do not miss this book. It's an important book, and on a lighter note, there's a smoking hot romance (this author does romantic chemistry very, very well). I also appreciated the well drawn side characters - particularly the circus workers - some sympathetic, some nefarious, all of them interesting. Much applause for this book that will inspire more compassion for those who suffer from inherited mental illnesses, as well as open readers' eyes to the plight of elephants worldwide. Beautifully done. #TeamSwifty #GoTigerGo
Profile Image for Michelle.
650 reviews182 followers
December 28, 2018
3.5 stars
"Crazy is genetic. It's the house I was born inside. There are no windows, just two locked doors. One door leads to Normal, the other to Insanity. At some point, I will inherit a key, but I don't get to pick which door it unlocks."


Tiger Lily Decker has lived her entire life in fear. At 7 years old her paranoid schizophrenic mother tried to kill her and since that time she has suffered not only from the crippling aftermath of that trauma but also from the idea that she too might lose her mind one day. Each month she takes a personality quiz to see if she has succumbed to mental disease. Her father keeps close watch over her and doesn't allow her to venture out. Decisions about her future are mapped out with the idea that insanity is inevitable, that she might break under the pressure of college programs or find certain environments too stressful. Not until Lily meets Swift Taylor, a baby elephant that has been rejected by her mother does she find the strength to take a chance on herself.
Profile Image for Faith Simon.
191 reviews164 followers
May 31, 2018
I received an advance copy of this title from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

So pretty much all the reviews on this book are 5 stars, I feel like a total douche right now. *Feels especially nervous to review this book after I noticed the author sometimes sees and replies to the reviews 😳*
I don’t know if it was because I just finished one of the best books I’ve ever read before picking this up and I was suffering from a book hangover, or if the book really was that tough to get into, but it took me sooooo long to read this book!
So the jist of this book is that it’s about acceptance, love, forgiveness and some small portion of mental health. This book is not what is expected, which sometimes can be a good thing and is pleasantly surprising. I didn’t find that I was severely disappointed by this but I wasn’t thrilled and it didn’t really enhance my opinion of the book as a whole because of it. I just feel the same as I did when I first started the book, meh, with a few warm feelings. I am not incredibly thrilled with the mental health representation this book brings to the table, as most novels with schizophrenia as a plot point establish it as bad or evil, I feel this point only adds to stigma and doesn’t actually do much to educate on the subject. While this book does a good job of providing several points of view about this particular mental illness, I don’t think the entire plot of Lily being terrified of getting the illness is a necessarily helpful to those who have it and are grateful to see de-stigmatization regarding the way it’s portrayed as bad and evil. But I will also give credit to the character development throughout the story, and also the development of Lilly’s feelings towards the illness this aspect is certainly redeemable.
The first portion of the book is developmental, character introduction, situation building, that sort of thing. Although it wasn’t overly boring, I felt that it took a long time for anything remotely interesting in the story to occur. So I think the pacing was good, I just think that the story itself could have just moved along a bit faster than it did.
I really enjoyed two characters, Lily and Sawyer, and that’s pretty much it. Other characters? Meh. Aside from Swift Jones of course, I got really invested in that baby elephant. The book did a great job of establishing the bond between Swifty and Lily, and made me as a reader concerned about her well-being and invested in her story. But I didn’t feel the side characters were very flushed out as well as they could have been, and could have made me care a little bit more about them. I didn’t really care for the dynamic between Lily and Otis, I think the story very well could have done without it, to me it just sort of felt forced, even at the beginning when it was being hinted at, I was hoping that it would turn out to be nothing, because even from that far back it just seemed so incredibly forced and a concept I didn’t really want to see explored.
This book also calls attention to the morally gray areas of wild animal care, and the horrific conditions animals are kept in at the circus. I wish that there had been some warning as to the nature of this book and what I would have to read through as I prefer to skip through animal abuse in books, but I am glad to see this book raise awareness of such treatment of animals.
I however did not enjoy that the ultimate fate of all these characters is left open ended at the end of the story. In some cases this can add to the plot and be beneficial to the story as a whole, but here it just feels like the story was cut off awkwardly, and what this story really needed was some resolution. What happens with Lily and her friendship with Sawyer, her and Otis, Swift Jones? We don’t know, and I found this frustrating. I feel that this entire novel was one big build up and then the ending resulted in this falling absolutely flat with no resolution or conclusion to be seen.
The book’s title is very true to the story, and I was happy to see so many different issues addressed in the book.
Profile Image for Christina.
118 reviews38 followers
September 8, 2018
I'm giving When Elephants Fly a 3/5 stars. I thought that this was a really cute book about a girl named Lily who is determined to live a normal life. That is, until she gets entangled with an elephant calf named Swift Jones. I loved the relationship between Lily and Swifty. I loved how she was so protective over that little elephant and how she would literally do anything for her. I loved the moral conflicts in the latter part of the book. However, I felt like this book lagged a lot. At 400 pages, this book is quite long. The ending of the book really picked up the pace, but the beginning was fairly slow. Also, much of what happened in this book is really far fetched. Most of what happened at the end is so unrealistic. A few of the characters are also slightly underdeveloped, and a lot of big issues in this book are left untouched. While I thought this was a really cute story with good writing, it wasn't anything particularly special.
Profile Image for Shaye Miller.
1,236 reviews80 followers
November 14, 2019
This will be one of my very top YA reads of 2018 — I’m sure of it. I seriously didn’t know how to even start reading another book in the aftermath of this one. Just had to get that off my chest before I say anything else about this book. 🙂 The story is told from the perspective of T. Lily Decker, a high school senior who is facing more than her fair share of questions about the future. When she was a child, her schizophrenic mother attempted to kill her. And since schizophrenia can be hereditary, T. Lilly has developed a 12-year plan to avoid life experiences that SHE believes might decrease her risks of developing schizophrenia. If she plays her cards right, she’ll hopefully have a shot at a somewhat normal life after the age of 40.

In the meantime, T. Lily finds herself in the middle of a major news story about a baby elephant being rejected by her mother. The shocking experience brings up painful memories of her mother and T. Lily feels compelled to see this news story to the end. And I mean the very end.

This beautiful book is sprinkled with quotes from Peter Pan and The Little Prince weaved between memories of things T. Lily’s mother once said. There are moments where the reader might be unsure of what is real and what is imagined, but it all comes together and makes perfect sense in the end. As I neared the final pages of the book, the full impact of the title hit me right in the gut. *SOB* I cried harder than I’ve cried in a very, very long time. This was quite the reading experience. And one I didn’t want to end.

This story has heartache, devoted friendship, a wee bit of romance, and it addresses a wide range of topics including mental illness, homosexuality, child/parent relationships, animal abuse, and even a bit of journalism. I just love books that drag you through the wringer, teach you about things you knew practically nothing about, and THEN make you feel all the feels. For a NUMBER of reasons, I highly recommend When Elephants Fly for any Teen or Young Adult collection.

NOTE: There’s an important Author’s Note about real life inspiration, about schizophrenia, and about elephants, zoos, and the circus. Additionally, there’s a long list of helpful resources for further reading.

For this and more #kidlit, #mglit, and #yalit book reviews, please visit my blog: The Miller Memo.

Written October 4, 2018 -- just after finishing:
This has got to be one of the most beautiful books I've ever read!! My head is swimming with all the love for this book (as well as with all that I learned). While I cried (with body shuddering sobs) through the final few pages of this book, it was a satisfying, life-can-be-so-wonderful, and I'm-so-sad-this-book-is-over cry. Full review to come SOON... I have my eye on you Nancy Richardson Fischer!
Profile Image for Julie.
1,400 reviews32 followers
March 23, 2019
T. Lily Decker is a high school senior with a potential time bomb in her genes. She has a strong family history of schizophrenia and her mother, in a psychotic episode, tried to kill her by throwing her off the roof. So Lily is just trying to survive and live a relatively uneventful life to avoid any stress that might push her in the same direction as her mother. But, life becomes complicated for Lily when she meets a baby elephant, born in a zoo, whose mother rejects her and also tries to kill her.

If you are a fan of John Green, then you will love this book. It's a complex blend of well drawn characters, strong plot and addresses some very tough issues. Really loved this story!
Profile Image for Brittany Briggs.
26 reviews
January 22, 2019
This book was absolutely amazing! One of my favorite books! Highly recommended ! ❤️❤️❤️❤️
Profile Image for Dorie.
62 reviews24 followers
December 16, 2018
"Crazy is genetic. It’s the house I was born inside. There are no windows, just two locked doors. One door leads to Normal, the other to Insanity. At some point, I will inherit a key, but I don’t get to pick which door it unlocks. Even if I did, there’s no guarantee I’d understand the choice, or realize where I was going when I got there.”


Eighteen-year-old Lily faces a fear most of us can only just imagine. When she was just seven years old, her mother fell into a deep spiral of paranoid schizophrenia and tried to kill her. Because of an alarmingly high family history with the disease, Lily’s doctors have told her that she’s at an increased risk of developing schizophrenia herself and, even worse, she just entered the twelve year period where it’s most likely to manifest. Lily is determined to beat the odds and does everything she can to prevent it. She avoids stress, alcohol, and all drugs including caffeine; she eats “clean” foods and exercises regularly; she practices meditation; she even has her best friend test her mental state every month to see if she’s showing signs of deterioration.

Lily’s dream is to be a journalist and she interns with a local newspaper to work towards that dream. When her boss sends her to do an interview about a baby elephant at a local zoo, she has no idea that she’s about to embark on a journey that will push her way outside of her comfort zone.

”The calf lay beside me, gazing into my eyes. I had the urge to tell her that there’s a relief when you no longer have to prove to the most important person in your life that you’re worthy.”


The author did a ton of research while writing this book and it shows. Mental illnesses don’t fit into molds, but this book offers a realistic depiction of schizophrenia while still emphasizing the fact that everyone’s experience with the disease will be different. This is NOT a book that romanticizes mental illness, which I was relieved to see, but it’s still sure to pull at your heartstrings. It also includes a wealth of information about the morally gray areas in the treatment of wild animals, the plight of elephants in captivity, and the vast differences in their quality of life in various environments, such as a circus versus a zoo versus a wildlife habitat. I feel like I learned a lot while reading this book.

When Elephants Fly was a light-hearted and cute story, enjoyable to read, but also very educational and eye-opening. This is a book I think all high school students (and adults!) should read.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Thank you to Harlequin Teen and Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

BLOG: Dorie's Reading Corner
Profile Image for Ally.
188 reviews38 followers
August 10, 2018
Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

This book was truly amazing and something really special. This is a unique story of a girl named Lily with an increased chance of developing schizophrenia due to her family's history and her journey with a baby elephant, Swifty. Lily is supposed to be avoiding stressful situations for the next 12 years to hopefully avoid developing schizophrenia, but she is pulled into Swifty's world and has to decide how she wants to live the rest of her life.

"The calf lay beside me, gazing into my eyes. I had the urge to tell her that there's a relief when you no longer have to prove to the most important person in your life that you're worthy."

I do not have schizophrenia or have proper education on it other than briefly discussing it during my psych class last year, so I looked to see what others have said about this books portrayal of it, and it seems that from other reviewers who are more educated about it than me that it is a respectful depiction of the illness. This is not a book that romanticizes mental illness. Personally I feel like I learned a lot about schizophrenia by reading this, and am really glad that I read it.

I loved elephants before reading this, but I love them even more now. They are so smart, and not to mention adorable. I already knew how they were abused in circuses but I learned a lot about the species and about what the lives of elephants who are out of the wild are like. I think this will really open a lot of people's eyes, most importantly YOUNG people's eyes, and hopefully spark a change in how much we as a society do to protect elephants as well as other endangered species and the treatment of animals in general.

This book was well written, the plot was unique and stands out from the crowd, the characters are memorable, and I think people can learn a lot from this book. This book comes out on September 4th, and I will definitely be buying my own copy of it so I can read it again in the future.

"Crazy is genetic. It's the house I was born inside. There are no windows, just two locked doors. One leads to Normal, the other to Insanity. At some point, I will inherit a key, but I don't get to pick which door it unlocks."
Profile Image for Madison.
1,063 reviews59 followers
July 24, 2018
4.5 stars
An incredible story of survival and finding something to believe in and fight for, When Elephants Fly will have you laughing, crying buckets and wildly cheering for Lily and her battle to save elephant calf, Swifty.

Lily is working off a tight plan to control the likelihood of her developing schizophrenia. The genetic odds are not in her favour but by living carefully she hopes to avoid following the same journey her mother took. But, when on assignment for her journalism internship, she witnesses an elephant reject her calf and Lily can’t help but see the parallels between their stories. Lily must decide if it is worth risking everything she has worked so hard to control to try and save the life of the elephant she is quickly coming to love.

Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautifully written, beautiful message, beautiful characters (and yes, that includes elephant calf, Swifty). Alone, Lily’s story or Swifty’s story would be enough in themselves to be both moving and motivational, enough for any book. Yet together they become phenomenal. The compassion between humans and animals, the loss Swifty and Lily both share, and they ways in which they help each other is stunningly conceived and written.

I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t love elephants. The conservation and protection of elephants is a big part of this story. Thanks to the author’s research and personal experience, everything in this book is all too heartbreakingly real. It will hopefully spark movements like the one Lily starts in the book to raise awareness of animal treatment and the ways in which we can take action to protect these incredible creatures.

Mental health and Lily’s response to her story - past, present and not yet told, is a strong theme in this book. It is Lily’s story. The author, both in her notes and throughout the book, makes it clear that this is Lily’s journey and it will differ from anyone else’s, but Lily’s fear and reaction will be relatable to so many people. It is an important portrayal of mental health and shares a powerful (but never judgemental or one-size-fits-all) message.

Friendship is another key part of When Elephants Fly. Lily relies on her best friend Sawyer. He tests her for schizophrenia, protects her from being a total outcast at school, and is there for her through everything. But, it takes Lily a good part of the book to realise that Sawyer is not untouchable, as she thinks, and that he needs her support in return. Much like in the way Lily grows from someone who lives in fear and defence-mode to someone who is willing to risk everything for something she believes in, she shows such growth and development as she comes to realise how important Sawyer is to her and how she can be there for him in return.

My only complaint? That ending. Happy and sad, and oh my gosh I needed more details!!! Infuriatingly true to life where sometimes there are no clear answers, we readers are given possibilities not definitives, but I wanted more. Putting my teacher hat on, though, the ending presents the perfect opportunity for discussion of even a writing activity, letting students create an additional chapter or epilogue as they imagine the many ways in which Lily and Swifty’s story might continue.

When Elephants Fly is a beautiful and important YA novel - it is easy to recommend and I look forward to having it on our library’s shelves to place into the hands of many, many readers.

The publishers provided an advanced readers copy of this book for reviewing purposes. All opinions are my own.

Find more reviews, reading age guides, content advisory, and recommendations on my blog Madison's Library
Profile Image for Amanda.
1,065 reviews
July 25, 2018
Lily is afraid that she will end up like her mother, who suffered from schizophrenia, she is trying all she can to achieve her dreams of being a journalist all while keeping her mental sanity in check. When Lily covers the story of a baby elephant named Swifty Jones, whose mother tried to kill her. Lily feels she must stick with the story and fight for the safety of the baby elephant.

Lily is a strong, determined character who is fighting for her dreams. She is afraid of becoming her mother and she is fighting against the odds that are stacked against her. I really enjoyed seeing Lily with the baby elephant Swifty and seeing her help take care of the elephant. Lily worked hard to fight and keep Swifty alive and help fight for her wellbeing. It was sad to see how much Swifty struggled and start to lose the fight to survive. I particularly liked the friendship that forms between Swifty and a small dog named Flea. Lily had a great friend in Sawyer, he was supportive of her and looks out for her best interest.

This was an entertaining read that I enjoyed. There are some sad scenes that deal with mistreatment of animals that can be hard to read.

I willingly received an advanced copy from NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Michelle.
661 reviews6 followers
August 8, 2018
My full review can be found on the Epilie Aspie Chick blog!

This book really hit me hard because it asks the question I ask myself a lot as an Epilie-Aspie with major anxiety issues: am I living or am I waiting in fear? When mental health is an issue for you, it has this way of encompassing your world and taking over like it does in Lily's. The problem is that you ens up missing life when you do that. Life is worth the risk because at least you're giving yourself something to hold onto and that's very powerful stuff.

From page one, the author here showed with here dedication down to her author's note how much this topic matters to her and the level of detail she took in writing this. Even though the conversation aboht Lily is schizophrenia, its so applicable to mental health disorders in general.
Profile Image for Ashlee Dario.
1 review
January 14, 2019
One of the best books I have read. This book is beautifully written and is inspirational for so many who struggle with mental illness; in that you cannot let fear of the unknown stand in your way. ❤️
Profile Image for Emily.
127 reviews2 followers
April 10, 2019
This book was nothing like what I expected. The way they tackled mental health was incredibly well done and this is a very powerful book. I think this book is important and the issues it explored are not something widely seen, especially in YA. While it may be more of a 4 star for me, bumping it up to 5 for that.

* I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Melissa (YA Book Shelf).
741 reviews133 followers
September 14, 2018
Wow! When Elephants Fly is a powerful novel that deals with a type of mental health issue that isn’t often dealt with in YA and a complex look at the issues surround animal captivity in zoos, traveling shows, and animal sanctuaries vs. the wild.

From the opening pages, I identified with Lily. Her all encompassing fear of not if, but likely when she developed symptoms of some type schizophrenia defined the way she lived her life. She got information from a variety of sources, including YouTubers who had a genetic risk for this disease just like Lily does die to her mother’s own struggle with paranoid schizophrenia. It’s understandable why she would avoid risking stress, which is a factor that can induce symptoms when her own mother had tried to kill her when she was only seven years old because of her mental health.

But at the same time, it’s easy to see that by making easy choices that don’t challenge her very much, Lily is barely living. If she’s able to stave off schizophrenia for a few additional years by never having a life worth living for, would it be worth it? Lily’s therapist doesn’t think so, so she challenges her to go beyond her journalistic code for living life. Instead of automatically going to community college, maybe she should apply to at least one school with a good journalism program. Maybe she should applying herself and pushing her writing to the next level at her local paper internship. Maybe she should find something that she would fight to protect, so that if she does get some schizophrenia symptoms, she’ll have a reason to fight for the life she loves and the people she’s populated it with.

So what does Lily slowly realize is worth fighting for? How about a three week old baby elephant named Swift Jones after a pop star, who I think is supposed to be like Taylor Swift, who was named so in a elephant-naming contest that Lily came up with for the paper in which everyone who suggested a name had to donate $5 to the zoo where she was born in Oregon. Swift Jones aka Swifty is an Asian Elephant, who is rejected by her mother, a situation that gets into the public eye inadvertently through Lily and causes the traveling circus where Swifty’s father lives to claim her when an attempt at reintroducing mom and baby doesn’t work mainly because they know that a baby elephant will sell tickets.

This novel forces Lily and the reader to consider what they would do, what would they sacrifice if the life of a young baby elephant was on the line due to the stress of being rejected by and taken away from her mother. Nancy Richardson Fischer never once makes you feel like your experiencing so much of an info dump that it becomes boring or heavy handed, but at the same time, those who don’t know about the complex ethics of animals in captivity as well as the dark side of animal abuses which happen sometimes.

While I’ve been uncomfortable with animals in captivity for a long time unless their in sanctuaries, I nevertheless learned a lot about elephants in general and the kind of situations that they might experience when they’re removed from the wild, even though the potential for extinction is also very high when they remain in the wild die to the actions of poachers and the illegal ivory trade.

You may find yourself crying tears of extreme sadness at several points, just like elephants like little Swifty does. Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Nina.
Author 7 books312 followers
March 16, 2018
I was given an early ARC of this story to read because I do what I can to raise awareness of the plight of elephants and other wild animals in captivity - and I was thrilled with what I read! Not only does this book show the reader the perils of keeping elephants in zoos and having them perform in circuses, it does it with heart, grace, and imagination. I can't tell you why it made me cry without spoiling the plot, but both the protagonist Lily and baby elephant Swifty will tug at your emotions throughout the story. All of this is skillfully interwoven with Lily's fears about inheriting her mother's schizophrenia. But for me, an animal lover, it was Swifty's story that made this a must-read for me. I'm so glad it will be out there for teens to learn more about how our society deals with elephants and other wild animals in captivity.
Profile Image for Eden.
465 reviews167 followers
September 3, 2018
It took me a while to be excited about reading this book. As contemporaries go, it was par for the course. There was romance and all the other things we love about the genre, but there were other things that really sets this book apart from the norm.

Lily was a great character to follow. She struggled with doing what was right for her and what was just right. Her mental health problems were imperative to the story. I thought it was carefully done and shed light on something I didn’t really know a lot about: schizophrenia.

Another thing I loved about this book was the advocacy for better living conditions for animals in zoos and circuses. The author herself is very passionate about elephants and their current living conditions in the United States and treatment in their natural habitats. I enjoyed reading a story about things I didn’t know a lot about. I enjoyed learning while I read.

Did this book have a mediocre romance and unfinished ending? Yes it did. But did the mental health representation and elephant advocation overrule those things? Yes they did. I went back and forth from three to four stars on this one. As a BOOK, I’d give it three stars. However, the author’s passion shown through her author’s note at the end immediately raised it to a four star. I love myself some passionate authors.
Profile Image for Kim.
853 reviews5 followers
October 8, 2018
I had no expectations of this book, except liking the title. Actually, I had less than no expectations and perhaps this is why I was so overwhelmed by everything about this book. It is insightful. It is tender. It is tragic. But it is also humorous, downright funny in places.

Lesson to be learned; to be a good friend you have to listen even to the silence. You have to give more than you take. You have to be there when it is uncomfortable and most inconvenient. because that is the most important time.

Lesson; to be crazy you have to acknowledge that you might understand sanity and that you have no say in whether you own it or it owns you. You have to understand that your genetic DNA is larger than your twelve-year plan and today is now and that is really all you will ever have.

Lesson; T. Lily Decker will make you laugh, shake you head, drop your jaw to the ground, and laugh a bit more. She sees herself a “life coward” but her best friend calls her “fierce” and she can be the most believable liar.
T. Lily Decker will make you question what is here and now and what may never be and what may ultimately happen. She will make you cry and swear at the unfairness of life and she will make you wonder how she grew to be so…everything.

Loved this book, loved the writing, spot-on dialog, so many issues, so many opinions, who is right, who is wrong, who will bend, who won’t.

Thank you NetGalley and Harlequin Teen for a copy
1,262 reviews26 followers
December 20, 2018
edna z naj knih tohto roku

Budu aj mierne spojlery, tak necitajte, ak by vam to malo vadit.

Lily ma cerstvych 18 rokov a velku obavu. Jej mama mala totiz schizofreniu a dokonca sa Lily pokusala zabit, ked mala iba 7 rokov. Neskor vo vazeni spachala samovrazdu. Lily ma vsak velky predpoklad, ze tuto chorobu zdedi a preto sa snazi dodrziavat plan, aby tych 12 rokov, kedy je najvacsia sanca, ze sa choroba prejavi, prezila bez choroby. Teda ziadni frajeri, ziadne fajcenie, ziaden stres. Pomaha jej najlepsi kamos, Sawyer, ktory je jej velkou oporou, no sam ma rodinne problemy.

Lily dostane za ulohu napisat clanok o babatku slonice v mestskej ZOO. Jej clanok ma uspech, no ked ide do ZOO znovu, je svedkom toho, ze matka slonica sa snazi svoje babo zabit.
Zacne sa zufaly boj o zachranu maleho slonicatka. A hoci je Lily zo zaciatku skepticka, postupne si Swifty zamiluje a hoci riskuje prepuknutie choroby, robi vsetko preto, aby ho zachranila.

Bolo to nadherne. Velmi sa mi pacil vztah slonicatka a psika, aj to, ako to autorka ukoncila /otvorene, Lily zacina mat vidiny a aj so slonicatkom to nie je iste, ci prezije/. Urcite si od autorky este nieco precitam.
Profile Image for Maryam.
386 reviews
January 5, 2019
*4.5 stars* This was an outstanding novel that really emphasized the fear that comes with getting a mental illness. Mental illnesses impact people’s lives in so many ways that it’s crucial to inform people of how negative the effect can be. This novel grapples with the concept of being able to control your life by being extremely careful in every aspect of life. But that kind of life is already stressful and unfulfilling. Lily’s exposure to the elephant crisis was something that pushed her to act in accordance to her beliefs and passion.

I loved Swifty and I really was shocked and disheartened by the truths of zoos and circuses. This novel portrays animal abuse in an excellent manner and truly causes readers to question the purpose of zoos and circuses.

I really liked Lily’s character development and her friendship with Sawyer. He was someone that always had her back and I’m glad that Sawyer called Lily out on the fact that she needs to be more aware of those around her. It’s never okay to assume your problems are worse than others. Pain is relative to each different person.

An issue I had was the instaromance. Although Otis was nice, the feelings just seemed force. Sure he attraction could be there, but certain things were off like Otis’s reaction to the fact the Lily could become schizophrenic. His reaction just seemed unrealistic for someone whose known Lily for just 3 days.

Other than that, this was a great novel for me to start off the new year!
Profile Image for Jennifer Brewer.
151 reviews81 followers
January 4, 2019
I wish I could express with words how much I truly loved this book but I don’t think I possibly could. Sawyer, Otis, and of course baby elephant Swifty cracked my heart wide open. Tiger Lily quickly became one of my favorite fictional characters of all time. I read this book through many laughs, quite a few tears, and very high anxiety trying to anticipate what was going to happen next. Between gasping out loud and raising my fist in solidarity or excitement, this book had everything you could want in a story. I didn’t expect to be completely immersed when I started reading it but that is exactly what happened. I thought Fischer’s writing was beautiful, captivating, and easy to connect with immediately. I was highly impressed with the amount of research she clearly did on Elephants in the wild and in any sort of captivity but also on schizophrenia and how that manifests differently for each person. When Elephants Fly was the first book I finished reading in 2019 and what a way to kick of the year. ALL THE STARS.

Huge thank you to the author for sending me this copy of her book.
Profile Image for Richard.
454 reviews7 followers
October 26, 2018
Fuck poachers and circus owners. It amazes me how some people cannot seem to grasp the simple beauty of another living being; how we can just destroy whatever living thing we want and say it's our right as the top of the food chain. Well, it's not our right. Hunting and killing animals for no better reason than to use it as a wall ornament or to sell its parts for profit is wrong on every fucking level. So is using them as circus attractions by way of torture and degrading training techniques. This will never change unless we stand up for these and all of earth's beautiful creatures. Thank you to Mrs. Fischer for reminding me that I am not a bystander but a voice for elephants everywhere. Together we can make a difference. Thank you, Nancy.
Profile Image for Angelique.
313 reviews1 follower
July 4, 2018
I chose this book from the title, since I adore elephants, and I’m so glad I did. When elephants fly deals with a few different major hot topics, but mental health is the issue in the forefront. The main character, Lily, has just turned 18 and is living life fearful that she will end up with schizophrenia, like her mom. She is doing an intern as a journalist and has the opportunity to do a piece on an elephant at the local zoo that is about to have a calf. The two story lines connect and there is a whole lot more that happens, so many great characters. And elephants, a baby elephant and a dog for a best friend. I highly recommend When Elephants Fly by Nancy Richardson Fischer.
I received this early release from NetGalley for an honest review.
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