what I’m reading: when we were animals by joshua gaylord.

when we were animalsWhen We Were Animals by Joshua Gaylord.

Lumen Fowler grew up in a small town, a town where, for one year when teenagers reach puberty, they run wild and “breach” during the full moon. They run naked in the street, engage in fits of violence and sex, and the whole town knows it’s not safe to be outside when the full moon rises.

Lumen lives alone with her father, as her mother died when Lumen was young. Lumen is a good girl, a smart girl, and has promised her father that she will never breach. Like her mother, who didn’t breach when she was growing up, Lumen believes she is different and has decided not to breach as well. However, those good intentions fall to the side and Lumen finds herself becoming one of the town’s feral teenagers for 3 nights out of the month.

This story was weird, but in a good way, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. It’s told from the point of view of Lumen in the present time, when she is married with a son, as she looks back on her childhood and teenage years. Lumen often has trouble relating to the other parents and, even as an adult, Lumen still seems to have troubling coming to terms with her past.

On the one hand, I really liked this story. It is beautifully written and Lumen’s voice is so real that I was surprised when I realized the author is male.

I did enjoy the parts of the story that had to deal with the children turning into animals. It was definitely a different take on the coming of age story and it was such an interesting concept, the way the townspeople just accepted that it was a way of life and knew to be in by sundown on the nights of the full moons. The children looked to it as a rite of passage and the breaching was something to embrace, not be afraid of.

But that’s about it.

On the other hand, I was left with so many questions. There is no explanation for why the children in the town breach, or why it only happens to children in that town (neighboring towns seem to know something is off, but they don’t know exactly what it is). Additionally, in the present time, both Lumen and her son seem to exhibit animal tendencies. I’m not sure if the author is implying that breaching is hereditary (as Lumen’s family lives far from the town she grew up in), or if we never really grow up, or if things that shape us as children remain forever in our lives.

Additionally, the author hints at some big reveal and I just did not see it.

This story is full of teenage angst and darkness and growing up. I totally understand why some people love this book. The characters are complicated and the writing provocative. In spite of that, I’m glad that I only checked this book out of the library.

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