WHEN WE WERE ANIMALS by Joshua Gaylord


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In this coming-of-age tale with a gory twist, Gaylord recounts the troubled adolescence of a good girl in a not-so-good town.

It's not unusual for small towns off the beaten path to develop quirky rituals. Lumen Ann Fowler's hometown goes beyond that. When puberty hits, teenagers experience what's known as "breaching," a year-long period of cyclical sex and violence, akin to an orgiastic Rumspringa, which takes place at every full moon on the streets of the town and in the nearby woods. Lumen—the kind of girl with few friends, excellent grades and a great relationship with her widowed dad—is convinced she'll never breach (her mother never did), let alone get her first period. Gaylord cleverly weaves in Lumen's present-day narration, in which she's a happily married mother known as Ann whose husband and young son know nothing about her past, with the events leading up to and including her inevitable inclusion in the bizarre breaching rituals. The usual drama between teenage girls and the boys they covet is heightened not only at school, where the students whisper about their exploits under the previous night's moon, but also during the hypersexualized breaching scenes themselves. At first the tentative Lumen feels outmatched, but as she comes into her own—while unearthing secrets from her mother's past—she discovers that she's a force to be reckoned with.  

Though the buildup, like Lumen's agonizing wait to breach, is slow, once Gaylord finds his momentum, there's no stopping this bizarrely fascinating journey of dark self-discovery.

Pub Date: April 21st, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-316-29793-6
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Mulholland Books/Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2015


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