It´s Official: When We Were Animals is Sublime.

When the moon was out, you could be aware of all the pieces of night—you could see all the things you didn’t see during the day, all the subtle little fragments that the world uses to join its wholes.

When you read on your Kindle, you can higlight passages you like. You know this, right?

While I use this feature when beta-reading to highlight things I think need work (adding a note) I also highlight passages that I think are writing magic.

I just finished Josh Gaylord’s When We Were Animals and oh my God did I highlight a lot of passages!

When We Were Animals coverThe writing is fantastic. The book tells the story of Lumen Fowler, a teenager growing up in a town where teenagers go a bit feral when they hit puberty. They run wild and naked outside during the full moon and fight and fuck with reckless abandon. But not our Lumen, at least not at first. Lumen knows that her mother never “breached”, the term for the state the teenagers enter, and neither will she.

Promises are easy to make. You utter a word or two, and it’s done. But those are magic words, too. They speak of a defined future to which you are required to adhere. They commit you beyond the length of your experience. What they do is they take away possibility. Promises are the opposite of hope.

Or what? Lumen stays inside and watches the other kids “breach”, some of them coming to her window to call her out. As her friends enter and leave the period of breaching, leaving Lumen behind, she starts to worry more and more about her place in the world.

We all have stories to tell. Our demons are sunk deep under the skin, and maybe we use stories to exorcise them—or at least know them truly.

I found When We Were Animals less compelling of a read than Gaylord’s The Reapers are the Angels (an action-packed zombie novel written under the pen name Alden Bell), and a little harder to reccommend, at least story-wise. Gaylord’s writing in the book, however, makes it an easy recommendation for people to whom the writing in a book is of equal importance to the story. I can also imagine teenagers passing this book around in school (it contains a wollopping bunch of sex and violence) and Joshua’s publisher is probably hoping that the book be banned in school, to cement its notoriety and guarantee sales.

To look at someone’s naked body in the moonlight is to know that person in a new way. Lumpy humanity laid bare. A person stripped of all masks. For surely, I realized, that is what we do. We start with one pure and concentrated version of ourselves, then we modify and mold, we layer defense over pretense over convention. By the time we’re done getting dressed in the morning, there is little left of who we really are.

The book also focuses on Lumen’s relationship with her father, a thing that at first seems spotless and sincere, but changes as Lumen breaches.

I thought he would tell me he loved me, but I hadn’t heard that from him in a long time. When I was a little girl, he would say it routinely. He seemed compelled to say it. But the declaration had gone the way of tall tale and myth. As though the love between a father and daughter were only a childish thing. As though womanhood made obscene that which had previously been precious and perfect. And so did we all fall—and in such a way were a million Edens lost.

Lumen falls uneasily into her breach, almost as if she is a spectator of herself a she rushes into puberty, and it brings out a mean streak in her that she then tries to excorcise. We get glimpses of her as an adult and well… no.

You’ll see when you read the book.

You could fall in love with it all—and you could want, finally and truly, to set a match to it.

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