Monday, December 24, 2007

The God of Animals

Getting through adolescence can be difficult for those living even the most ordinary of lives. And it is especially difficult for someone like 12-year-old Alice Winston who wakes up every morning completely overwhelmed by what is expected of her that day. But Alice is no quitter, and what this young narrator of The God of Animals learns about herself and her family gives her a quiet strength that will serve her well the rest of her life.

Alice lives with her parents on a declining Colorado horse ranch that depends on her for the free labor that helps it to survive from one month to the next. She spends her summer days tending the horses and, when school starts, her schoolwork is secondary to their care. Nona, Alice’s sixteen-year-old sister has eloped with a rodeo cowboy and seldom bothers to call or write the family. Her mother, who has suffered from depression almost since the day that Alice was born, almost never comes downstairs, preferring to live in the total isolation of her bedroom. And then there’s her father, Joe, a man who pretty much ignores her as long as she manages to muck out all the horse stalls and doesn’t offend any of his paying customers.

Joe Winston is a desperate man. His ranch is creating so little income for him that he is forced to take in horse boarders and to milk the rich parents of the little girl who is only equestrian student for all he can convince them to pay for her lessons and her horse’s upkeep. He hopes that she places high enough in local shows that her rich girlfriends will come to him with their horses for the same lessons. In the meantime, he doesn’t even notice that his own daughter has outgrown her clothes and boots because she realizes that there is no money for new things and doesn’t ask for replacements.

Alice longs for the same escape that her sister made but her sense of responsibility makes it impossible for her to see any way out. She has no real friends at school and, ignored at home, she creates a fictitious family background with which to impress the only adult who will listen to her, her Advanced English teacher, a man she begins to call every night to talk about the things no one else wants to hear.

But nothing can prepare Alice for what she learns about life when her sister returns to the ranch with her new husband and when catastrophe truly does strike at the heart of her existence. Aryn Kyle’s debut novel is a remarkable coming-of-age novel, one placed in a unique setting and filled with interesting side-characters throughout. I will remember many of them for a long time, but the one that will perhaps stay with me longest is Jerry, Nona’s rodeo cowboy husband, a young man blinded by love and the volatile relationship in which he finds himself. The God of Animals may not ultimately appeal to everyone but it is definitely worth a look.

Rated at: 4.0


  1. It is rather painful at times to watch what happens but it does manage to end on a relatively high note, I thought.