Grumpy Book Grrrl

a writer and reader

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Here’s the deal: as a full time employee/student/mom I have not had time to write a ton of new reviews. Hell, I barely have time to read books anymore. Let’s just say I’m still getting the hang of this after-hours student deal. I’ve been super whiny and sluggish and I’m turning into the biggest procrastinator in the history of procrastinators.  Basically, I’ve turned into my teenagers.

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So, since Shelly so thoughtfully put me up first in our quasi-formal review rotation (I love you!), I’m going to rehash an old review of a book that I love(d) but doesn’t get much circulation.

We read The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell (a pseudonym for Joshua Gaylord) as a buddy read some time back. I freakin loved that book!  I’m not reviewing that book here, but it’s another one that’s totally worth checking out.

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It was so good, in fact, that it made me want to read more. This was an unknown author to me, and he’d just blown me away with that book. Seriously. So, of course I jumped on GRs and found this other gem: When We Were Animals.


And, man, I’m so glad that I did. It’s a blend of horror/coming of age/magical realism. It’s one that is really hard to pin down genre wise, but is really probably the best of all three, if that makes sense?  So now for the whole reason I started this post: my original review from August 2015.

Yes, I know, I know. That’s almost two whole years ago. It was so long ago, and the book is no longer relevant. That’s what you’re thinking, right?


This was honestly one of the last books to make my favorites list. I’ve become so cynical and jaded in my old age (and before you ask, I’m somewhere north of 30 which makes me just old enough to be curmudgeonly), that when I finished this book, I originally rated it only 4 stars. But it’s one of those reads that just stays with you. After reading it I kept thinking about it, about the beauty of the writing and the feelings it evoked.  I mean, it made my favorites list for a reason, right? And not only that, it was also nominated for the 2015 Shirley Jackson Award for best novel. My sister, the consummate Shirley Jackson expert, would be proud.


Not you, Miss Jackson. Never you.

So, without further ado, I present to you my review. You guys got lucky this time, this is a short and absolutely crappy GIF and image free!

“I know what love is. Love is angrier than this. It’s harsher. It’s tasting the world on your tongue and digging your claws deep into the underbelly of life. I know exactly what love is. It’s sometimes leaning over your husband while he sleeps, while he conjures in his dreams all the fears and ecstasies he would relish if he were ever able to let himself be truly and wholly alive, breathing in the fermented air exhaled from his pink, undamaged lungs-and it’s sometimes wanting to rip out his throat with your teeth.”

Lumen is such an ethereal character. If ever there were changelings it would not surprise me in the slightest to learn that she was among them. She lives in a town where, during the 3 days surrounding the full moons, citizens tuck themselves inside their homes before the sun goes down and never venture out before the dawning of the next day. You see, in this town the teenagers experience a very unusual, very disturbing, very savage coming of age. They call it breaching. Why it’s called that is up for speculation but teenagers who reach puberty begin to feel the call of the moon and the urge, no, the necessity, to give into very primal, animalistic needs. Feral teenagers rule the nights here. But come morning, everything is at it should be. The wounds are tended to, the brutality is ignored, and life moves on.

But Lumen is not like most teenagers. Her mother never “breached” and she decided that she never will either. Nature, however, does not always listen to our wants. Lumen eventually feels the call of the moon but knows that she feels it differently than most, that she IS different than most. She’s broken. You see, for Lumen the savagery doesn’t end with the full moon. Her instinctual needs begin to follow into her days as well.

This is Lumen’s story, told from both her adult perspective as she deals with the responsibility of family life, as well as her young/teen-aged one as she approaches and then passes “breaching.”

Oh man, this story. It was so hard to rate because on one hand I LOVED it. It was haunting and eerie and beautiful. The bones of the story were sound. However, there were some parts in the middle that felt a little long, and I hate to even give that critique because the story was so good.  Any writer who writes like this,

“I couldn’t hear for all the horror happening in my head. I didn’t think. I couldn’t tell what was happening. All I knew was ravenous hunger. I wanted to eat that little-boy soul. I wanted to chew it up and swallow it so that maybe he could be a little stronger, or so that maybe the world could”

deserves only accolades in my opinion.

I will also warn you that if you’re the type that likes a tidy resolution or answers, don’t bother. You won’t find either one of those here. There is absolutely no explanation as to why the town produces wild teenagers. It’s just something that always was and always will be. It was happening before Lumen was born, it is probably still happening now that she is all grown up. It just is.

I would urge you not to let any of these things deter you, however, because this is a book that leaves you feeling breathless and lost, like you’ve slipped into the space of madness that is Lumen. If you like a bit of wonder and a bit of violence, if you like pretty sentences and to feel words then this may be a good fit for you.

Man, I loved it. So much in fact, that even now, almost two years later, my heart is beating just a little faster and my chest is getting just a little tighter thinking about this book. It’s got that undefinable something that connects to the reader and doesn’t let go. I can still feel now the way it made me feel then when I was reading it for the first time.  And though Alden Bell/Joshua Gaylord is not a prolific writer, I am most definitely now a fangirl. It totally gets all the stars from me.

5 Stars. No questions.

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