This is a book about a talking chicken. Please be warned though, that this is certainly no children’s tale. It is an alternate history of the world, very similar to the one we inhabit right now, except for one teensy incident: all at once, every chicken in the world became sentient.
How this happened is never explained, nor is it really germane to the story, which focuses on the outcome for both species when humans are suddenly confronted with beings that have a consciousness equal to their own, along with the use of language to express themselves. The story is told through the lens of Jake Gallo, a chicken, who is one very angry bird. He simultaneously hates humans and desires to be accepted by them, and his state of constant conflict within himself and with the world further feeds his anger. His sister works side-by-side with humans as a nurse and sees acceptance and collaboration between the two species, but Jake sees only discord. Overhearing youths joking about things “tasting like chicken” and threatening to roast his kind certainly does nothing to dispel his beliefs.
Jake travels back to the family home to visit his ailing father, Elmer. Upon his father’s death, Jake is given the diary that Elmer wrote in throughout his life, starting with his first night of consciousness. Via his father’s diary entries and through conversations with his mother and a longtime family friend, a human farmer named Ben, Jake explores the violence experienced by those first chickens and their struggle for equal rights. And there is plenty of carnage, with both species reacting to the changes with understandable levels of anger and fear. But like most conflicts, there are those who passionately fight for peace and an end to the brutality. Only if society can listen to the voices of amity and silence the voices of discord will the struggle end for both species.
Tragic, thoughtful, and engrossing, Elmer is a remarkable book. It explores pride, lost histories, and the legacy of abuse and violence, counterbalanced by a vein of thoughtful humor. Though images like a chicken wearing a three-piece suit are intentionally amusing, the humor never dips into slap-stick. Gerry Alanguilan somehow manages to make the faces and body language of the chickens display a wide range of emotions that are never cartoonish. Recommended to fantasy and graphic novel readers.
Search the WRL catalog for Elmer.