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When We Were Animals Hardcover – April 21, 2015
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"A fascinating look at a time during which we think we know everything, only to realize that we don't even know ourselves . . . When We Were Animals takes us on a journey that is at once completely foreign and utterly relatable."―Brooke Wylie, Examiner.com
"In Lumen, Gaylord creates an unforgettable and, well, luminous narrative voice, and his language captures the lush, dangerous possibilities of teenage nights to perfection. . . . this book deserves a breakout success like that of Jeffrey Eugenides's first novel, The Virgin Suicides."―Library Journal (starred)
"When We Were Animals conjures the dreamy satisfaction of revisiting the cult horror movies of your youth -- things are familiar but they resound in new and unexpected ways, revealing subtle depths and poignancy. This is a dark, inventive and absorbing story, fittingly theatrical. It disturbs and entertains in equal measure."―Benjamin Wood, author of the Costa-shortlisted The Bellwether Revivals
"Admit it: you remember an animal time in your own life. And if you think you don't, Joshua Gaylord and his book will lash you with it. When We Were Animals has the power to creep you out and, yes, turn you on."―John Griesemer, author of Signal & Noise
"Imagine if Twilight were well-written and grown up. Coming of age in this small town is less about braces, and more about street fights and lots of sex. Yes, it really is good."―TheSkimm
About the Author
- Item Weight : 1.1 pounds
- Hardcover : 336 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0316297933
- ISBN-13 : 978-0316297936
- Product Dimensions : 6.38 x 1.13 x 9.63 inches
- Publisher : Mulholland Books (April 21, 2015)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,678,581 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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As said, this is a coming of age tale mostly set in a small town. It's told from the point of view of the main character who narrates the story of her youth, growing up in a town with a very unusual rite of passage for it's teens entering adulthood. Basically, all the youth in this town go through a period called breaching where they become savage & feral during the full moon nights, running around throughout town doing everything that comes naturally to animals. The young children and adults stay behind their locked doors during full moons allowing the teens to do as they will until morning. During the day the teens are perfectly normal, everyone ignoring the various injuries they sustain during their full moon travails. The adults have gone through it and the children will, so for this town it's just normal life.
But for the main character Lumen it's not normal. Her's is a unique experience in that her mother did not breach & she, herself, is a late bloomer. She's convinced she will also not breach and this sets her apart. When she finally does go through her own version of this experience, it has a profound affect on her, solidifying who she is. While she's telling this story as an adult mother and wife looking back to her youth, you can clearly see how this transformation has altered the way she sees the world compared to every other person living in it. Her perspective carries brutal truths other people don't allow themselves to see. And you can see that she will never be able to fully escape this fact, just as the people she allows into her life will never be able to escape the affect her perspective will have on them.
This story and especially the style in which it’s told, won’t appeal to everyone; you’ll either love it or hate it, there won’t be any in-between. There are some very heavy and graphic subject matters depicted here that are done to and by teenagers yet I never once felt the author crossed the line, it was all described so purely and beautifully and I was honestly fascinated by it. I can only further describe this story as being a depiction of what would happen if you stripped away our humanity and returned us to our natural animalistic ways. The basic story-line has some similarities with the movie The Purge, the main differences being here we’re dealing with teen’s ages 13-16 instead of adults and rather than 1 night a year, this town experiences “breaching” for 3 days each month. If this isn’t enough to get you to sit up and take notice then there’s also an underlying mystery full of twists and turns, plus an ending I never would have predicted!
I adored Lumen’s character and saw so much of my teen self in her. All of her struggles, her longing, her feeling like there’s no “right” place in the world for her therefore she must be ”bad” or “wrong” in some way. I also loved that the story is told through Lumen’s POV as an adult while she looks back on her childhood and teen years leading up to her “breaching”. Young Lumen started out as such a docile girl who was often times overly willing and compliant. I was riveted by the transformation of her character from a young sweet girl into the woman who was narrating the story. Another big plus for me was the relationship between Lumen and her Dad. It was written so well and really captured what happens in a single parent/single child dynamic. For years you are each other’s whole universe, nothing else is needed nor does it matter because it’s the two of you against the world. But as children grow up that relationship is bound to alter and change, other people become important in a teenager’s life and the single parent finds they suddenly have a life again. It’s a natural process yet not an easy one to get through and I loved how the author chose to capture it here.
I would love to ask Joshua Gaylord how he came up with the idea for When We Were Animals and why he chose to write it from a girl’s POV, I’m rather curious because it’s done so well. He really captured the essence of teen girls and how they can be shockingly beautiful and cruel at the same time. At its heart this is a coming of age story but delivered in such a way that is so savage and unique. This is definitely a book I won’t soon forget, its story will stay with me for a very long time! I would have loved to read this with my book club, there are so many bits and points to dissect and discuss. Highly recommend but only for those not bothered by teens, sex and violence and who enjoy books that cross over into the weird and bizarre.
Top reviews from other countries
For a day job Joshua has taught high school English in New York for many years and I really dig the idea of an English teacher creating really beautiful horror novels after he has graded his papers for ‘Catcher in the Rye’ or ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ or whatever else he is teaching. Shirley Jackson most probably! A couple of years back I really enjoyed hearing Joshua talking about zombies in a very serious interview with an academic audience and we then became Facebook buddies and have chatted about RATR and other novels on occasions. I said to him: “Josh! How could you end it with….. SPOILER ALERT?” And he replied, “There was no other ending possible….” Sad, but totally, totally beautiful and I cried my eyes out. A good while back I was chatting on Facebook with the brilliant British horror writer Adam Nevill in passing about RATR and he summed it up perfectly: “There's not enough poetry in modern horror, Tony. But Alden Bell really lights a path in that book.” I couldn’t agree more with what Adam said, as I know many people who enjoyed RATA who wouldn’t normally read horror or go within a million miles of a zombie novel. The word ‘zombie’ is never actually used, and set a number of years after an undead apocalypse a highly self-sufficient teenage girl wanders across an empty, almost frontier like America. Teenage hero ‘Temple’ is such a brilliant and enduring character she wouldn’t have been out of place in a Cormac MCarthy novel. This novel is highly recommended and a great introduction to the word of Joshua Gaylord/Alden Bell.
But there are no zombies in WWWA, but there is the same type of lyrical poetry, there is beauty and this hypnotic coming-of-age tale had me hooked from beginning to end. It’s not strictly horror and like many great books is quite different to pigeon into any particular genre. It certainly was as original as RATA and was one of those reads that had a whiff of ‘YA’ about it, but to be honest I couldn’t decide 100% whether it was or not. AATR was the same, I thought it was an adult novel, but my teenage school book club adored it and I believe it may have been pitched at teens in the USA. It was certainly one of the best novels I’ve read in the last five or six years.
Before getting to the plot I was really pleased to see that WWWA has been nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel, 2015. This is certainly a big cheese award and I was over the moon for Joshua, as it very well deserved. So the plot: in a nutshell, in this small quiet Midwestern town, which is unremarkable save for one fact, when all teenagers reach a certain age, they run wild. They go nuts. They go bat-shit crazy. When I saw they ‘run wild’ I mean when they hit puberty (or there abouts) they ‘breach’. Something that only happens in this small town. Without giving too much away ‘breaching’ means that when the full-moon is out all the adults and doors lock their doors and batten down the hatches and the teenagers go mad. Sex, orgies, violence, killing and are unbelievably brutal to each other. But it is all forgotten when the next day breaks. In the early stages I thought they were werewolves, but it’s a strange rights-of-passage thing which hits every teen. Well, every teen except one….. And that’s what the book is about.
Some teens breach for longer than others. Often those who have the wildest breaches, only do it for a short period. Then the full-moon comes around and they no longer feel the need to run wild. And woe betide the parent who tries to stop their kid from breaching…. Years later everyone looks back on their own breaching with a certain nostalgia. “When I was a kid” sort of thing….
The book is narrated by a girl called Lumen, who tells her story (or is it a confession?) from years later. After she has left the town and has her own family, who know nothing of her past or her weird town. In looking back over her life we realise she refused to breach (was it a choice?) as she hit puberty late, however, something changes and she begins to investigate the history of her strange town and the mother she never knew.
This was another fantastic genre-bending read from Joshua Gaylord. Part thriller, horror and coming-of-age tale which should have wide appeal beyond the horror market as the author has the writing tools to stand tall with the very best writers of literary fiction out there. Like RATA it’s a very literary novel, very gothic in style, has limited action, with fantastic descriptions, and if you’re the type of reader that likes all the questions answered and all the boxes ticked, then I suppose you might find this novel a bit frustrating. Not me though, I liked the vagueness of it and maybe not all questions need answering. It was certainly a story that remained with me long after I had finished it and I’ve recommended it to lots of friends. It really is worth your attention and especially if you fancy comparing it to RATA. He may use two names, but the author writes equally wonderful with both.