Hypersensitive Clarice isn’t just vegan—her empathy for animals runs so deep that she becomes physically ill after witnessing their injury.
She’s plagued by intrusive thoughts of the pain they’ve encountered, and life is difficult, since she can’t come to terms with the necessity or inevitability of death—she won’t drive for fear of running over a frog. Clarice’s brusque first-person narration and the stiffly expository dialogue underscore the rigidity of her internal code. She’s at loose ends in her junior year of high school when she secures a volunteer internship at an iguana sanctuary on Grand Cayman, where she meets other committed animal lovers who help her expand her perspectives on cruelty and the brutality of the natural world, bringing some gray to her black-and-white universe. Short scenes lurch along at a disorienting, elliptical pace, so that what would normally be big plot points, like selecting, applying to and being accepted into the college of her choice, take very few pages. It’s hard to feel connected to many of the human characters as they’re broadly drawn; the iguanas, by contrast, come off with greater depth, underscoring Clarice’s intense attachment. Clarice’s distress and the descriptions of animal suffering (based on real events) are communicated all too clearly and are leavened by too few moments of humor, making this a book that’s not for everyone.
Readers with a ferocious love of animals will know they’ve found a kindred spirit. (author’s note) (Fiction. 11-14)