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Name All the Animals: A Memoir Paperback – February 22, 2005

4.2 out of 5 stars 59 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Alison Smith’s close-knit Catholic family is the very picture of contentment--right up until the day her 18-year-old brother is killed in a car accident. In Name All the Animals, Smith walks readers through the breakdown and breakthroughs of her family in the days and years that follow.

Cleanly written and only occasionally maudlin, this memoir reads like a gritty coming of age novel. Included are all of the pieces one would expect in a book that starts with a death--bereft parents, good samaritan neighbors, even a somewhat rote post-funeral scene back at the house--but Smith manages to throw in a few unexpected curveballs. A sweetly scandalous lesbian experience, a pair of skinny-dipping nuns, and a suspiciously undetected bout of anorexia come together with a quiet but ever-present insurance investigation to create a truly original story.

Written in the same vein as The Lovely Bones or The Dogs of Babel, Smith’s story manages to convey the beauty that can be found in coming to terms with grief. Ultimately triumphant, this is a great read for anyone searching for meaning after the loss of a loved one. --Vicky Griffith --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In her first book, Smith, an alumna of the Yaddo and MacDowell writers' colonies, confidently weaves together aspects of a traditional coming-of-age memoir with a story of unimaginable loss. In lucid, controlled prose, she meticulously reconstructs her family's journey through the three years following her 18-year-old brother Roy's death in a car accident, just weeks before he was to start college, in 1984. Despite their overwhelming grief, Smith's devout Catholic parents' faith does not waver, but the 15-year-old Smith grapples with her beliefs. "I thought perhaps it was my fault that Roy had left us," she writes. "I thought I was being punished for some unknown sin." A student at a Rochester, N.Y., Catholic high school, Smith can't express her doubts, nor can she reveal her romantic feelings for one of her schoolmates, a less sheltered girl who introduces her to Colette and van Gogh. And even though Smith becomes exceedingly thin, her mother and father fail to notice she's anorexic. Name All the Animals (the title refers to Adam naming the animals in the Garden of Eden) includes many vivid images, although some of the language can seem too pretty and composed. The book closes with the third anniversary of Roy's death. "If I lived past the summer of my eighteenth year," Smith resolves, "I would have to face that Roy died and that I the little sister, the tagalong... would surpass him." It's a brave ending to an impressive debut.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (February 22, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743255232
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743255233
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #632,903 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is a true story, which is why it's described as a memoir. But it could just as easily have been published as a novel. It has all the character development, suspense, narrative arc, and beautiful writing of the best literary fiction. So don't dismiss it if you're not a big memoir fan. It should appeal to fiction and nonfiction readers equally.
But regardless of how it's categorized, I could NOT put this book down. I read it every second I could and couldn't bear to be away from it when I was at work. The grief made my heart break, but the love story, and Alison's success in figuring out who she is, just made my heart swell. It's such a gorgeous, moving portrait of a family, both in grief and in love. It's told through the 15-year-old eyes of the author, and she just GETS adolescence. I was sent spiralling back to my own memories of high school, and the unique, electric, unforgettable experience of first love. It's one of those unforgettable books that only come along every so often. I highly recommend it to readers everywhere.
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Format: Hardcover
First time author Allison Smith has written an engrossing memoir that reads like a coming-of-age novel, as she describes childhood pastimes, family vacations, struggles in school, her first kiss, etc. However, superimposed over all of these activities and events is the shadow of her older brother's sudden death when she was 15 years old. Smith shares her own response to the loss of Roy, a brother with whom she was so close that they shared a common nickname, Alroy. At the same time, Smith skillfully weaves in stories of her family's past, an effective literary tool which serves to illuminate the different reactions of each family member to Roy's death. The narrative does not always relate to Roy directly, but although Smith devotes much of her book to her experiences in school, friendship, and love, the specter of Roy is always present.

Smith has done a masterful job of characterizing the many different emotions which compromise grief; her book is not just about sadness but about anger, confusion, numbness, guilt, embarrassment, and more. The teenaged Allison is a poignant figure who can't help but to ignite compassion, not only in those around her but also in the present-day reader. My one disappointment about this book is that the reader is told little about Allison's future. Although Smith includes an epilogue which takes place 13 years after Roy's death, these final pages add little to Allison's story, leaving the reader to wonder about her health, her relationships, and her life in general. Overall, however, this book is a remarkable acheivement for Smith, who clearly has the makings of a novelist.
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Format: Hardcover
Alison Smith not lost her only brother to a car accident at age 15, she also lost the luxury of working through the typical adolescent struggles on her own time, with her parents' full attention. Denial and a stiff-upper-lip attitude are the strategies her parents choose to get through the long grieving period -- which happens to coincide with her own first steps toward adulthood.
Smith gets her period the day before her brother dies. She meets her first love a few months later, goes to her first boy-girl drinking party, grows apart from her prim-and-proper best friend and tries to walk a narrow line between fitting in at school and letting people know what (and whom) she really cares about.
Her parents, who hold things together with devout religious observance, extreme hiking and clucking nervously (but ineffectually) over their only remaining child, fail to notice (or are afraid to mention) her anorexia, even when she drops to 85 pounds. They have only the haziest, uneasy grasp of the tumultuous romantic relationship she's involved in and don't even mention it when their daughter fails to comb her hair for days and leaves for school with her sweater inside out. Smith's parents work so hard just to remain functional after such an unexpected loss that the family becomes dysfunctional -- failing to protect her even as they indulge in overprotective behavior.
She's a subtle enough writer to portray her ambivalence about some of her convent-school friends -- the theatrical Susanna, who wears opera gloves to school (because they're not covered by the uniform code)is seen as fun to watch but insensitive when she presses Smith to use a slumber-party Ouija board to contact her late brother.
The nuns who run the girls' school also are far from stock characters.
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Format: Hardcover
I LOVED this book and can't wait until it is my turn to select the book for my book group to read. This will definitely be my choice -- there is so much to discuss in it. It is a book of despair and hope, family, friends and society's expectations, and above all, love and isolation. I found it very much more uplifting than The Lovely Bones, to which it will inevitably be compared.
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By A Customer on January 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Like an earlier reviewer, I too read this book in one sitting. Unlike that reviewer, I found the writing remarkable. Readers will want to keep picking it up, not so much because the book is "gripping", but because it is inviting - you will just want to spend more time with her.
The book is a moving memoir that reads like a novel. Ms. Smith has seamlessly woven together pieces of her story in a manner reminiscent of a new friend describing her family to you over a period of time - memories that may seem disjointed and out of focus at first begin to take shape until, in the end, the reader realizes a relationship has been formed.
Yes, religion is the backbone of this young girl's family but readers are not beaten over the head with it, it simply is. "Hot button" issues are treated with the subtlety of adolesence and thankfully, never labeled. They too are just part of growing up. I don't think this book was ever meant to address how to deal with the painful aftermath of the death of a sibling. Rather it is a tribute to childhood and growing up in spite of it all.
Recommendation? Read it and decide for yourself!
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