Review: Unlikely Animals by Annie Hartnett

by Joli
Unlikely Animals Book Review

What a great read this was! I’m super excited to tell you my thoughts on Unlikely Animals. Glowing review ahead!

The Synopsis

It was a source of entertainment at Maple Street Cemetery. Both funny and sad, the kind of story we like best.

Natural-born healer Emma Starling once had big plans for her life, but she’s lost her way. A medical school dropout, she’s come back to small-town Everton, New Hampshire, to care for her father, who is dying from a mysterious brain disease. Clive Starling has been hallucinating small animals, as well as having visions of the ghost of a long-dead naturalist, Ernest Harold Baynes, once known for letting wild animals live in his house. This ghost has been giving Clive some ideas on how to spend his final days.

Emma arrives home knowing she must face her dad’s illness, her mom’s judgment, and her younger brother’s recent stint in rehab, but she’s unprepared to find that her former best friend from high school is missing, with no one bothering to look for her. The police say they don’t spend much time looking for drug addicts. Emma’s dad is the only one convinced the young woman might still be alive, and Emma is hopeful he could be right. Someone should look for her, at least. Emma isn’t really trying to be a hero, but somehow she and her father bring about just the kind of miracle the town needs.

Set against the backdrop of a small town in the throes of a very real opioid crisis, Unlikely Animals is a tragicomic novel about familial expectations, imperfect friendships, and the possibility of resurrecting that which had been thought irrevocably lost.

My Review

First of all, I’m so thankful to Ballantine Books via NetGalley for letting me read Unlikely Animals before it comes out. This was one of my favorites of the year so far!

I tend to really enjoy books with quirkiness done well, and this one just hits that out of the park. I mean, it’s narrated by the ghosts of people in the town who’ve died and are now buried in the town’s graveyard. One of the main characters sees and interacts with a ghost (and not-real animals), and another main character is doing her job of teaching a group of endearing 5th graders without any prior experience (or education) in education.

All of that made this story so unique, fun, funny, and heartwarming. If you’ve read Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson, I’d compare this book to that one in terms of quirkiness and endearing-ness.

I think my favorite character in this story was Clive. He continue losing some of his cognitive function to a brain disease as the book goes on, but he’s just the most interesting guy with a heart of gold. I loved that he told his daughter to do a C-average job at teaching the kids so nobody expected too much of her. And of course, the fact that he interacts with a ghost on a daily basis makes him rather interesting.

Of course, I loved Emma, too. The prodigal daughter returns from college, only to not really turn out to be much of a prodigal daughter in her family’s eyes. She’s mourning the loss of her dad before he’s gone because of his deterioration, and she’s also just mourning the loss of what her life could have maybe been if circumstances were different. She’s a fabulous character and I loved following her as she really has to grow up after college to help her family and her town.

This book has mystery, a little magical realism sprinkled around, and a whole lot of family growing/changing pains. It was quirky, fun to read, and engaging, and I was a little sad when it ended. I really highly recommend picking this up! Do it! 5 stars.

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