In Bourke’s debut novel, a young veterinarian is inspired and sometimes tortured by her intense empathy with the animals she treats.
Kylie Wheeler’s route to a career in veterinary medicine begins with an after-college job with the National Park Service observing and protecting endangered species of shorebirds on the New Jersey coast. From there, she travels to the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana to work on a National Forest Service project to investigate the feasibility of reintroducing the Canadian lynx to the environment. In both of these jobs, Kylie faces frustrations and rewards as she learns about the unique qualities of the birds and rabbits she studies as well as the human ignorance and indifference that so often contribute to animal suffering. Discouraged by the futility of keeping picnickers from trampling rare plover eggs and alienated by scientific research that requires the deaths of its subjects, Kylie goes back to school to become a vet. She finds that even the healing of sick and injured animals is complicated by money, professional egos, and human error. Bourke does an excellent job of animating Kylie—a cynical but warm and hardworking young woman who is quick to admit and relinquish her prejudices and cares deeply about the animals in her care even when she is supposed to affect professional detachment. The novel is engagingly written and never drags or dithers. The quick changes of scene can sometimes feel a bit disjointed, but Bourke moves Kylie through her interesting careers with skill, maintaining reader interest and allowing her character to grow and develop through her widely varied experiences with animals. As a vet, Kylie articulates the particular pain of a caring medical professional treating creatures who are under the control of owners who may not value their lives or feelings very highly.
An affecting portrayal of the making of a veterinarian and the day-to-day challenges she faces.