Unlikely Animals by Annie Hartnett (Literary Fiction)

Writing: 4/5 Plot: 5/5 Characters: 5/5

Wonderfully fun and engaging book — one of the most creative I’ve read in a long time.

Emma was born with “The Charm” — magic hands that could heal injuries in her small New Hampshire community. But the charm appears to have deserted her as she is called back from medical school (which she never exactly started) to “heal” her rapidly declining father. As part of his degenerative brain disease, he sees things — hordes of rabbits, stray cats, and a long-dead naturalist (Ernest Harold Baynes — the real life Dr. Doolittle!) who keeps him company. You would assume these were all hallucinations but then the narrator of the book is the collective “we” of the local grave dwellers who provide occasional opinionated commentary on events. And from here it just gets weirder and more fun. Despite tackling a number of disturbing issues: the opioid crisis, degenerative brain disease, a missing person, and drastic and unintentional life plan changes, this novel is always cheerful and always fun. A highly responsible stray dog, an expensive imported Russian fox, and some pretty adorable 5th graders join the living and the dead in the cast.

Some random fun quotes:
“That’s why we like living with animals so much; they exhibit their joy so outwardly, remind us how to be better alive.”

“Emma found that Moses had ripped open a bag of flour on the couch, another way the dog was dealing with his separation anxiety: challenging himself to make messes that were increasingly difficult to vacuum up.”

“Auggie rolled his eyes toward his skull, and Emma regretted hoping Auggie could pull his life together. In fact, she didn’t care if anything good ever happened to him.”

“It was her wedding china, but she didn’t care. Her marriage wasn’t doing her any favors lately.”

“And Clive knew he was loving, really loving, when he remembered to be.”

“Nothing to be embarrassed of. Just the imperfect human body having a hard time.”

Thank you to Ballantine Books and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on April 12th, 2022.

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