Hippos shrink, zebras speak French, and love heals all wounds in Stein’s debut novel.
Mila is a writer who’s frustrated to be battling cancer instead of helping to save endangered species in Africa. In order to remain positive through rounds of chemotherapy and pain, she imagines the adventures of her stuffed hippo, Po, and Petal, a woman who adopts the hippo after finding her in a blue valise. Po has the power to “hippomorphosize,” or grow and shrink at will. The hippo has a plan to save the world, using kisses and her own love for a zebra named Tree, who was raised by hippos. However, Po’s mother is missing somewhere back in Africa. Petal is an American artist who escaped from Hollywood and now keeps herself sober with Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. She has a loving British partner, an estranged British brother-in-law, and a crush on an unreliable Californian man. She and Po, with the help of their many friends, work together to heal each other’s broken spots as they search for the hippo’s mother. In their adventures, Mila finds new reasons to keep going. This whimsical tale of magical realism is not for everyone. For example, some readers may be taken aback at a world in which creatures can change their sizes by chanting nonsense words or where the silliness of hippo-administered “Kiss Therapy” exists alongside realistic loneliness and loss. But for those with looser imaginations, the book will strike just the right balance between humor and pathos. The narrator’s voice has a confidence that feels no need to explain itself, and the characters are alive with wit and occasional wisdom. Sometimes their philosophizing outstays its welcome, but in a book with talking animals that use “Lunar Ears” to find each other and start new fashions in Los Angeles, it’s hard to call anything out of place. From beginning to end, the story embodies Mila’s philosophy: “Things just happen. What we do with them defines us.”
A delightful jumble of jungle creatures, two-legged and four-legged alike.