This is a guest post from Margaret Kingsbury. Margaret’s short stories and poems have appeared in Devilfish Review, Pulp Literature, Nonbinary Review, and Expanded Horizons. She and her saxophone-playing husband live in Nashville, TN where Margaret teaches college English as an adjunct and works at a used bookstore. Her pets are her books. You can follow her on Twitter @MargaretKWrites and she blogs at margaretkingsbury.com.
At a hearing recently, Republicans discussed repealing the Endangered Species Act. Despite a tendency to avoid the outdoors and stay inside with a good book, most readers I know love animals. I mean, how many of us weep when an animal dies in a book? (Why do they always have to die?!?! Okay, they don’t always die, but it sure does seem like it.)
In protest of this possible repeal, I’ve amassed a list of 8 novels featuring our lovely animal friends (and no, they don’t always die in these picks). Let’s hope that in the future books aren’t the only places to find them.
- The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis. A post-apocalyptic Western that reads like a Quentin Tarantino movie (I mean that in the best possible way). When Elka’s seven, a super storm kills her grandmother. A man named Trapper adopts Elka and teaches her wood lore and how to hunt. When she’s seventeen, Elka sees a wanted poster with Trapper’s face on it, and it’s not until then that she realizes he’s a serial killer. She escapes into the woods, but two people hunt her — Magistrate Lyon and Trapper. Along the way, she makes friends with a wolf, who joins her on her trek across the West. And he’s such an awesome wolf!
- The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht. Stories within stories within stories—just my kind of read! Natalia goes to the Balkans as a physician, but when her grandfather dies in a village far from his home, she becomes absorbed in the secrets surrounding his life and death. Remembering the stories he told her as a child, often involving animals, Natalia wonders whether they hold some bit of truth about his life. The novel entwines two folktales within the main narrative, and one of these folktales concerns a tiger, and his wife.
- The Bees by Laline Paull. Hold on to your bookmarks, but this book is literally told through the POV of bees. In a medieval-style matriarchy, bees vie for power while the earth’s ecology disintegrates. Flora 717 struggles to fulfill her place as a sanitation bee while her instincts tell her she’s meant for something else. The Hive Mind attempts to control rebellious bees like Flora 717, but the altering landscape outside the hive also affects the interior structure of the hive. To survive, the bees must change.
- Into That Forest by Louis Nowra. Another cat one! After a boating accident in Tasmania, two young girls — Hannah and Becky — are stranded in the bush. But they’re soon rescued by Tasmanian tigers (now extinct), who raise the girls as if they were their own cubs. For the next four years, Hannah and Becky live with the two tigers, learning how to hunt and speak the tiger language. Meanwhile, they forget much of what it means to be human. I mistakenly thought Tasmanian tigers were like other tigers, but I was wrong. Let’s hope the other animals on this list don’t also become extinct!
- Shardik by Richard Adams. I read this first as a preteen, right after discovering Watership Down. Shardik is a reincarnation of a bear god. Kelderek, a hunter, becomes his prophet, preaching that Shardik has come to claim the Belkan throne. In a land scarred by slavery and human trafficking, Kelderek’s journey to find followers is fraught with danger. Unlike Watership Down, the bear’s voice is only heard in a few of the early chapters. Instead, the bear’s story is told through the humans he touches. It’s a heavily religious and philosophical novel.
- The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera. Kahu wants to become chief of her Maori tribe, but her grandfather believes that role can only be filled by men. The last descendant of Kahutia Te Rangi, the Whale Rider, Kahu possesses the unique ability to speak to whales and hear their stories. This is a fantastic, feminist young adult novel.
- The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan. (Okay, this one’s cheating a little because grey seals aren’t endangered or threatened, but many other kinds of seals are, like the spotted seal). Oh, how I love selkie stories. Each chapter portrays a new cycle of a small island’s magic – from no seal wives to seal wives back to no seal wives. Told in visceral, lyrical prose, the novel explores all the possible psychological affects the seal wives have on the island’s small population. It’s often heart-wrenching and difficult to read, but well worth it.
- Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. No, neither the oryx nor the crake appear in this novel, nor do any other non-genetically modified animals. In this dystopia, all animals are endangered. Jimmy lives in a rich, gated community, and one day his new friend Glenn introduces him to a game called Extinctathon, where your username is an extinct animal, and you must have extensive knowledge of extinct plants and animals to rise in the ranks. While I love The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy is my favorite dystopia, which is saying a lot because I love the genre.
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