Monday, June 1, 2015

Book Review: The God of Animals

Illusions and disillusions. Ah, what might have been … In Aryn Kyle’s The God of Animals, dreams characters have for the future collide with disappointments of present realities. Twelve-year-old Alice Winston relates events at the horse farm her father struggles to make profitable. Alice’s father teaches her the business and depends on her as his right hand. While Alice is truly his faithful little hero, he continually lauds her older sister Nona as the family’s shining star. Nona had been a champion rider, but as the novel begins, she has deserted the family to run off with a rodeo rider. Alice’s loyalty, smarts, strengths, and hard work are taken for granted in Nona’s shadow. Her mother, though living in the house, has mentally checked out (clinical depression?), and Alice seeks appreciation and love from other sources—her father’s clients, a teacher, and fellow junior high students.

Alice’s angst is palpable. Her guileless search for life’s answers and guidance is endearing. Her longing for love—and an adult to even tend to her basic needs—is heartbreaking. Her parents’ benign neglect—they are simply otherwise occupied—is painful to read. Alice’s self-protectiveness, perceptiveness, and pursuit of worldly wisdom are honest—or in some cases, dishonest, as she learns about lies. Aryn Kyle has written a novel that engages readers’ emotions, even if the emotions mostly slide toward sadness.

I often felt sad reading this book. But I wanted to read on. The God of Animals is a well-told story, and I enjoyed Kyle’s writing. Plus, I was rooting for Alice and wanted to hang in with her till the end. Also, horse training and equestrian competitions are unfamiliar to me, and I was fascinated to learn intimate, colorful details of the business that Kyle incorporates. Sometimes horse training strategies paralleled what Alice and her father and all we humans have to learn about breaking and bending under life’s dashed hopes. Occasionally as I read this novel, I thought a twelve-year-old narrator could not possibly articulate observations as wisely, and sometimes poetically, as Alice did. I decided just to roll with that inconsistency because I liked the writing enough not to quibble with that detail. 


tandemingtroll said...

Do you think this is appropriate for teenagers as well as adults? I am always looking for a good book for them to read that might be out of their standard zone. One daughter is really into both Manga comics and classical literature.

I joined a Book Club at the local library and have been really enjoying reading almost all of them. One of the books, "The Glass Castle" by ? Walls was difficult to read as a parent, especially near the end but it was gripping. I have to say that I really enjoyed it.

I really enjoy your book reviews.

Jane Hoppe said...

Thanks, Kris. Regarding your question about teens, my gut says no, but I'd suggest you read it first to make that call. My sense is that so many characters in this book make so many wrong choices resulting in so much pain and emptiness, that you'd want to talk a teen through the whole story. Especially since the main character, the narrator, Alice, is 12 years old. On the other hand, your teen might identify with some of Alice's feelings, which would give you some rich conversations with her. Sorry I can't be more definite.