Of all the books I’ve read this year, The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle is easily one my favorites. It has all the necessary ingredients: interesting characters, plenty of plot twists and layers of complexity.
Set in Colorado, on a horse farm, the story is narrated by twelve-year-old Alice, whose life is complicated by a mentally ill mother who hasn’t left her bedroom in years, a sister who ran off with a rodeo cowboy, a father who is struggling to support his family, a classmate who dies under mysterious circumstances, a teacher with whom she engages in inappropriate late night phone calls, and that is just the beginning.
The reader quickly begins to understand why the family’s farm is struggling: the loss of Alice’s sister, Nona, the horse show star, has hindered their ability to attract show clients, their stud has died, and they have to take in boarders to pay the bills. Alice witnesses and supports her father taking advantage of these clients. She also watches as these wealthy, bored housewives flirt with her father. I kept reminding myself that the story as witnessed by a twelve year old, may not be the entire story, as Kyle only gives us that one character’s perspective. Many details may be left out or misinterpreted since a child probably doesn’t understand everything she sees.
As the story hurtles along, I often felt like the characters were being sucked into a vortex. They all seemed lost and struggling and frustrated. I think almost all of them felt somewhat helpless and out of control. Some of these frustrations they overcome, and others…well…let’s just say that not all the story lines end happily. They lose and win and lose again, some characters end up okay, others, not so okay.
Ratings (For an explanation of my rating factors, please visit the Rating System Key page.)
Crack Factor – 9.5. It’s not that the beginning is slow, but the middle-end of this book is time stopping. Once I was invested in these characters and the story unfolded, I got seriously obsessed with this book and couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to find out what happened.
Distraction Factor – 9. Relationships and families are complex. Alice’s family has more complexity than most, and I still find myself thinking about them. I wouldn’t call this a happy book or a feel-good book, but it is a thought provoking book and it was this depth that I enjoyed.
Enrichment Factor- ?. I’m not a horse girl, but I did like reading about them and learning bits about this world of show horses and the people that compete in them, which is so far outside my everyday.
PeopleFactor – 9.5. Kyle’s characters are wonderfully flawed and complex. And to see them all through the eyes of a twelve year old girl, puts so many things into a unique perspective.
Story Telling Factor – 8.5. While I liked the complexity of the plot and all the twists and turns in this story, I did think the ending was pretty abrupt. Maybe I would have ended it a chapter sooner and then had the last chapter as an epilogue of sorts. It just didn’t sit well. I think some of my book club members felt the same way.
Writing Skills Factor – 8. According to what I’ve read about Aryn Kyle, this is her first book and she’s very young…like I’m-almost-old-enough-to-be-her-mother young. I’m not going to hold this against her. I think she’s quite talented, but there were a few things I noticed that were strange. I also read that this book started out as a short story and was later expanded and I think I found several parts where this expansion didn’t work very well. Kyle would repeat a scene or a phrase a page or two after she’d just written it. I did double takes each time this happened and would go back and read almost word for word what had just been said and then said again. Very strange. Maybe it’s an editing mistake? My point here is that it was distracting from the story. My own thoughts are that if the writing enhances the story, all the better, but I don’t think it should ever take you away from the story. And in these cases, it did.
Total rating: 8.9
Endnote—this was a pick for my Inforum book club—some of the members chose to include their comments and thoughts on this previous entry of my blog, if you want to check them out---click here.