Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Book Review | When We Were Animals by Joshua Gaylord

When We Were Animals is Joshua Gaylord's latest novel.

A small, quiet Midwestern town, which is unremarkable save for one fact: when the teenagers reach a certain age, they run wild.

When Lumen Fowler looks back on her childhood, she wouldn't have guessed she would become a kind suburban wife, a devoted mother. In fact, she never thought she would escape her small and peculiar hometown. When We Were Animals is Lumen's confessional: as a well-behaved and over-achieving teenager, she fell beneath the sway of her community's darkest, strangest secret. For one year, beginning at puberty, every resident "breaches" during the full moon. On these nights, adolescents run wild, destroying everything in their path.

Lumen resists. Promising her father she will never breach, she investigates the mystery of her community's traditions and the stories erased from the town record. But the more we learn about the town's past, the more we realize that Lumen's memories are harboring secrets of their own.
A gothic coming-of-age tale for modern times, When We Were Animals is a dark, provocative journey into the American heartland.

When We Were Animals is getting a lot of high praise, and it’s all true. Every bit of it.

And then there was me.

The writing in When We Were Animals is fantastic. I must read all the things by Joshua Gaylord. I’m happy to hear Alden Bell is a pseudonym for Joshua Gaylord because I have a copy of The Reapers are the Angels and I will be tearing into that soon.

I was hooked by When We Were Animals right away. Lumen grew up in a very strange town, and I loved the alternating timelines between her childhood and the present day. Somewhere in the middle, though, the book got stuck for me. There was no shift in time, no forward movement of the story, so much so that I almost didn’t finish reading it. I imagine readers with strong skills in literary analysis will have a field day with all of the allegory present in Lumen’s teenager years, but I’m not that reader.

I am glad I persevered and didn’t miss out on the ending of When We Were Animals. This is a special book that I won’t easily forget.

Like I said, this book is getting high praise and it is well deserved. For me, I just can’t get past the fact that I wanted to put it down.

6/10: Good Read

Review copy provided by publisher


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  1. Welcometo my world. Far too often I feel this way about books that are supposed to be amazing. Sorry this one was a struggle. At least the ending sounded like it wrapped things up ok.

    1. There was plenty worth reading, but the struggle was real.

  2. It definitely wasn't a plot-driven book, and I found myself wondering when the action was going to get going. But I realized it's just not that kind of book. You're right, the writing is excellent! Not a book for everyone, but I did love it.

    1. I can see why you loved it. There was just "too much of the same" in the middle for me. Yes, the writing! So much good there.

  3. Jennifer, it's nice to know I am not alone. I hate it when books are really hyped and I just don't get them. Like you I am glad I finished but I just can't rave about it.


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