I requested this book on Netgalley because it looked very interesting, but I had no idea how much I would love this book. When We Were Animals utterly gripped me and even when I finished the book it refused to let me go. This one is a keeper!
Pub. Date: 2/07/2015 (according to Netgalley)
Publishers: Random House UK
In When We Were Animals Joshua Gaylord approaches the fact of growing up from a very interesting angle. Puberty is a time in which most children find themselves becoming more aware of their surroundings, of their own nature, their own desires and wishes, and often also the cruelty of the world. For most families the teenage years are known as the years in which the children rebel and the parents suffer, yet most teenagers remain perfectly calm. They might get angry every once in a while and even skip school once or twice, but there is a lot more happening under the surface that most teenagers don't let out. The key element of When We Were Animals that fascinated me was the admittance that humanity is wild. There is something vicious and cruel in humans. A part of us, especially as a teenager, is fascinated with the hardness of life and with what would happen if we were to let go of all the rules society imposes on us. Now take all of these common, ordinary thoughts that all of us have and imagine that there was a year in which you would 'breach', run wild, during every full moon.
Joshua Gaylord picks up on the interesting repression of feelings that everyone experiences most days. Expressions such as 'I could have killed her!' don't come from nowhere and we have all used it before. There is something violent about human emotions and I really enjoyed seeing that angry passion coming out in something that isn't a romance story. Lumen doesn't spend her days being angry or sad or ambivalent about boys. Yes, there are boys, and there are mean girls. There are neglectful parents and there are loving parents in When We Were Animals. Lumen is a good girl who goes bad and a bad girl who goes good. And all of these story elements only come together in order to allow Lumen to discover herself. It was refreshing to see a woman narrate her childhood and her experience growing up while actually focusing on herself. Seeing her deal with the expectations everyone has of each other was very interesting and Joshua Gaylord's way of treating Lumen and her issues was stunning.
Joshua Gaylord's writing style is very captivating. His narrative is very reminiscent of the Gothic, the tone managing to be haunting, mysterious and revelatory all at once. Even when the novel's twists and turns can be seen coming they are still executed by Gaylord in a way that surprises you. It can be easy to slip into moralistic and "easy" writing when it comes to writing about the struggle to understand freedom, friendship, love, boundaries, good, evil and everything in between. The novel leaves just enough of Lumen's life as a mystery that the reader wants more. There is true skill in managing to give enough to be satisfying but not so much that the reader wishes for the novel to be over already. I would have loved more, but it is clear that the narrative as it is has everything that it needs.
I give this book...
Will the path Joshua Gaylord chooses in this novel appeal to everyone? Definitely not. His writing is very descriptive and at times very dark. He doesn't sugar coat and at times he exaggerates to make a point. If you want to be faced with some of the harder truths about yourself, then When We Were Animals is definitely for you. I also recommend this to readers who read and enjoyed The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma. I will definitely be rereading this novel soon and putting it in a lot of people's hands.