Name All the Animals Paperback – 7 Mar 2005
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This is a therapy book, for first-time author Alison Smith, but more importantly for anyone who has ever grieved. But thats only half of it. This is a book that offers so much more--from its elegant, dignified prose to its mature insights into sibling loss, adolescence, forbidden love and family relationships.
Largely set in the two and a half years after 15-year-old Alison loses her cherished brother Roy in an horrific car crash--the truth of which is kept from her by a protective community--it charts the grieving process of a family rent asunder by a loss so sudden and brutal it knocks them into a strange, half-way dimension somewhere between the dead and the living.
While Alison¹s deeply religious father and fiercely capable mother find their own ways of dealing with the death of their beloved 18-year-old boy--just weeks before he is due to leave for college--their only remaining child is left to navigate her own way through a maze of emotions, all the while growing from a serious, intelligent teenager into a woman.
Alison¹s increasingly erratic sleeping, eating and mourning rituals, combined with an intense love affair with a fellow pupil at her Catholic high school, send her dangerously close to the edge of life.
Throughout, her writing is compelling in its honesty. Her descriptions of the long nights following the accident, when her family roam the empty rooms of their home searching--but never quite finding--the comfort of sleep, are heart-wrenching, but eloquently told. Theres no mushy sentiment, no lecturing, no point-scoring, no judging. Alison avoids cliches, allowing the reader to experience her pain with no feeling of voyeurism.
After the accident, Alison becomes known in her neighbourhood as "the girl who lost her brother". Thanks to
'Genuinely moving, but also as finely crafted as any novel. [Smith's] first book but not, I sincerely hope, her last' -- The Bookseller - Editor's Choice
'Poignant, bizarre, resonant and uplifting' -- Glen Duncan
'[A] quite beautiful consciousness of the world, of love, loss, and the unfathomable bond between human beings, dead and alive' -- TIME OUT
'[Smith] is a beautiful writer, funny and wise, and she has made an unusually powerful book out of her grief' -- Entertainment Weekly --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Top Customer Reviews
This book struck a chord with me and a number of years after reading it, certain details and passages of "Name All the Animals" have stayed with me. So too has the quality of Smith's writing. It is fluid and lyrical and yet by turns also raw and visceral too, as Smith shows the devastation wrought on her family by the loss they have suffered, and the painful reality that she must make her own way in the world and be true to herself, even though finding the strength to do this might mean hurting her grieving parents even further.
All-in-all, I found this to be a powerful and haunting story of heartbreaking loss and difficult self-realisation.
Smith descibes Roy in the typical way that a bereaved person remembers fondly a lost loved one. Happy moments and memories that make us smile.
She also touches on the different way people cope (or don't!) and the different emotions we experience, from the bewildering early days of grief right through to resignation and acceptance.
Alison, who is 15 when her brother dies has been brought up in a very religious family and feels God leaves along with her brother on the day he dies. This was dealt with well in general, but I have to confess to understanding anyone wanting to escape the stiffling Catholicism shown by her parents and the nuns at school...yet sadly without any of them really understanding what she was going through.
Her struggle with this did however result in the poignant ending.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
But regardless of how it's categorized, I could NOT put this book down. I read it every second I could and couldn't bear to be away from it when I was at work. The grief made my heart break, but the love story, and Alison's success in figuring out who she is, just made my heart swell. It's such a gorgeous, moving portrait of a family, both in grief and in love. It's told through the 15-year-old eyes of the author, and she just GETS adolescence. I was sent spiralling back to my own memories of high school, and the unique, electric, unforgettable experience of first love. It's one of those unforgettable books that only come along every so often. I highly recommend it to readers everywhere.
Smith has done a masterful job of characterizing the many different emotions which compromise grief; her book is not just about sadness but about anger, confusion, numbness, guilt, embarrassment, and more. The teenaged Allison is a poignant figure who can't help but to ignite compassion, not only in those around her but also in the present-day reader. My one disappointment about this book is that the reader is told little about Allison's future. Although Smith includes an epilogue which takes place 13 years after Roy's death, these final pages add little to Allison's story, leaving the reader to wonder about her health, her relationships, and her life in general. Overall, however, this book is a remarkable acheivement for Smith, who clearly has the makings of a novelist.
Smith gets her period the day before her brother dies. She meets her first love a few months later, goes to her first boy-girl drinking party, grows apart from her prim-and-proper best friend and tries to walk a narrow line between fitting in at school and letting people know what (and whom) she really cares about.
Her parents, who hold things together with devout religious observance, extreme hiking and clucking nervously (but ineffectually) over their only remaining child, fail to notice (or are afraid to mention) her anorexia, even when she drops to 85 pounds. They have only the haziest, uneasy grasp of the tumultuous romantic relationship she's involved in and don't even mention it when their daughter fails to comb her hair for days and leaves for school with her sweater inside out. Smith's parents work so hard just to remain functional after such an unexpected loss that the family becomes dysfunctional -- failing to protect her even as they indulge in overprotective behavior.
She's a subtle enough writer to portray her ambivalence about some of her convent-school friends -- the theatrical Susanna, who wears opera gloves to school (because they're not covered by the uniform code)is seen as fun to watch but insensitive when she presses Smith to use a slumber-party Ouija board to contact her late brother.
The nuns who run the girls' school also are far from stock characters. As a graduate of another convent school (operated by a different religious order), I was surprised and proud to see someone describing how much the best of these women offered their students -- shrewd, kind, intuitive and in their own way, unconventional, the nuns in this book emerge as individuals, not Sister Stereotype.
Smith's writing is deceptively simple, not calling attention to itself, except in half-buried metaphors -- for instance, an account of the game of "ghost baseball" she and her doomed brother played ends with him stepping off from third base, calling "Ghost man heading home."
Like another reviewer here, I missed knowing more about Smith's life after the main part of the memoir, which ends in the summer after her junior year in high school. I wanted to know how she had become a writer, how she had integrated the loss of the brother into her adult life (does she tell people about him now, outside the context of this book?) and how she came to determine her adult sexual orientation (since her affair with another girl -- handled with extreme delicacy -- is a major part of the book.
Perhaps she is saving those themes for another memoir. I hope so.
The book is a moving memoir that reads like a novel. Ms. Smith has seamlessly woven together pieces of her story in a manner reminiscent of a new friend describing her family to you over a period of time - memories that may seem disjointed and out of focus at first begin to take shape until, in the end, the reader realizes a relationship has been formed.
Yes, religion is the backbone of this young girl's family but readers are not beaten over the head with it, it simply is. "Hot button" issues are treated with the subtlety of adolesence and thankfully, never labeled. They too are just part of growing up. I don't think this book was ever meant to address how to deal with the painful aftermath of the death of a sibling. Rather it is a tribute to childhood and growing up in spite of it all.
Recommendation? Read it and decide for yourself!