Nick Freestone braves the ruthless Japanese and the jungles of Burma while trying to rescue his father. 14-year-old Nick Freestone is sent to Burma as London, suffering nightly from the blitzkrieg, becomes less and less safe. His father, Jackson Freestone, owns a teak plantation there called the Hawk's Nest, and Nick has always looked forward to returning. However, he receives a poor welcome as his father is not even there to meet him.
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Once at the plantation, Nick enters a new world. He makes friends with Nang, the head elephant driver, or mahout. He also meets Mya, Nang's daughter, who loves elephants. However, Nick does not get along with Magwe, another mahout, who does not like Mr. Freestone and stirs up trouble. Nick also survives his encounter with Hannibal, a dangerous rogue elephant who breaks several of Nick's ribs. Nick does not tell anyone, but a wise old monk, Hilltop, saw it all.
Nick's dad finally returns to the plantation and greets him. However, Nick's grin turns into a frown when his dad informs him that he, Nick, will be traveling to Australia, the situation in Burma becoming unstable due to the threat of a Japanese invasion. Nick desperately wants to stay in Burma beside his father but has no good excuses.
Before the plan can be executed, the Japanese enter Burma and take over Hawk's Nest, aided by traitorous Magwe and his brother. The Japanese capture Jackson and take him to a concentration camp. However, the colonel treats Nick kindly, promising to let him go to Australia as soon as his ribs are better. Under these conditions, Nick reluctantly remains at Hawk's Nest for the time being.
Life under the Japanese is not what the Burmese expected. They thought the Japanese were going to free them from the oppressive plantation owners, but the Japanese turn out to be no better, working the villagers relentlessly and punishing them cruelly for noncompliance. Life grows steadily worse.
Days turn into weeks turn into months, yet Nick is still at Hawk's Nest, laboring under the strict supervision of the Japanese. The colonel has had a change of heart and keeps Nick as a hostage. Therefore, Nick has little hope for the future. Then one night Hilltop appears in his room and to Nick's astonishment, reveals that there are secret passages running throughout the house. Hilltop then declares that he is going to break out Nick and Mya, Hilltop's great-granddaughter, of Hawk's Nest.
Once out of the house via the secret passages, Nick and Mya ride Hannibal, who Hilltop has tamed, to the concentration camp where Jackson is stationed. Nick sneaks into the camp but is heartbroken to witness his father's funeral. Hilltop once again shocks Nick when he digs up the body and reveals that Jackson is alive and the funeral was just part of the plan.
Finally their luck runs out. As they are escaping, Magwe's brother, accompanied by the Japanese, finds them and gloats evilly. However, their delight is stopped prematurely as Hannibal goes on a rampage and kills the Japanese. Then Nick's stepfather, who has been tailing them, rescues them.
In the end of the book, Nick is now 18. He lives on a prosperous ranch in Australia with his father and Mya. The war is over and they have their whole lives ahead of them.
Best part of story, including ending:
The elephants and secret passages added color to the typical escape and rescue story.
Best scene in story:
Nick is captured by a funny Japanese soldier who comments about crickets and frequently composes haikus. He is not cruel or stiff like the other Japanese, but has a kind heart.
Opinion about the main character:
Nick changes from flabby, clueless, and stubborn to resourceful and determined.