Twelve-year-old Alice Winston is trying to figure life out. Her older sister has taken off with a rodeo cowboy. Her father is struggling to keep their Colorado horse ranch from dying, and her mother rarely gets out of bed. Being 12 is hard enough, but it’s even harder for Alice.
Alice is a lonely girl. She has no friends, doesn’t really fit in and has no guidance through this difficult time in life. Her father is emotionally isolated and spends his days looking for his big break that will fix everything. Alice’s mother is clinically depressed and has rarely left her bedroom since Alice was born. Alice’s only guidance and companionship has come from her sister, Nona. Now Nona has decided life on the ranch is not for her and has ran off and married a rodeo cowboy, leaving Alice with only herself to turn to for answers.
The one constant thing Alice always has in her life are the animals. She understands them. She sees their suffering and thinks the cruel world is as blind to them as it is to her.
To help make ends meet Alice’s father boards the pampered horses of rich neighbors. Alice sees the way life is when one has class, wealth, power and security, things she’s never known. As the Winston’s lives become tangled with those of their wealthy neighbors, Alice learns lessons about hard truths and life’s cruelties.
The first chapter of “The God of Animals” was originally released as a short story in The Atlantic Monthly called “Foaling Season” and won a National Magazine Award for fiction.
Though told through the thoughts of a 12-year-old narrator, “The God of Animals” is never childish or immature. While the other characters are not as developed as Alice, they aren’t dull and lifeless either. I just never completely understood their motivations.
Kyle’s debut novel is unflinchingly honest and achingly beautiful. At times, the book is cruel and hard to read, but it is real and moving, too. It’s not a story that comes to a definite conclusion but ends with a subtle finality. If you’re looking for action or suspense, this probably isn’t the book for you. But if you’re looking for a honest story about a less than ideal life, I highly recommend “The God of Animals.”
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