About The World on Either Side

“And for the record, a small hard heart is as heavy as a freaking bowling ball. It’s one of those inverse rules of physics: the smaller the heart, the greater the weight.”

Sixteen-year-old Valentine Joy cannot recover from the sudden death of her boyfriend. After an ‘accidental’ overdose, her desperate mother takes her to Thailand to trek in the mountains and force her back in the world. Once there, Valentine encounters a world she didn’t know existed, where elephants still roam wild and houses are on stilts. She learns about the Burmese civil war and the relentless violence against the Karen and the Rohingya people.

Then she meets Lin—a mysterious young elephant keeper tormented by his secret past—and Mohawk—an orphaned elephant calf, pursued by violent poachers. Together, the three flee into the jungle, looking for refuge and redemption.


I began work on this novel in 2008—when it was called An Elephant in the Restaurant and won the Random House/U of T Student Award for fiction. I left it for a few years, but went back, because I felt I had something to say about loss, grief and teenage depression, and I loved Valentine, my sixteen-year-old heroine. The setting also appealed to me—beautiful northern Thailand, where I had trekked with my own teenage daughter. Today, the novel barely resembles the one I started with, which is a really good thing.

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