Title: Kept Animals
Author: Kate Milliken
Page Length: 368
Publication Date: April 21, 2020
Synopsis: Rory Ramos is a dutiful teenager with a love of photography who works as a ranch hand at the stable her stepfather manages in Topanga Canyon, California, a dry, dusty place reliant on horses and hierarchies. There she rides for the rich clientele, including twins June and Wade Fisk. June begins to take an interest in Rory—but she is more drawn to Vivian Price, the beautiful teenager with the movie-star father, who lives down the hill, and Rory can’t help noticing, swims in her pool nearly every night. Rory’s ambiguous roots and blue-collar upbringing keep her largely separate from the likes of the Prices and the Fisks—until her stepfather is involved in a tragic car accident. From that moment on, the lives of these teenagers become inextricably linked—are they friends or foes, lovers or rivals?—sparking a series of events that come to a head the night a wildfire tears through Topanga Canyon, and Rory’s life is changed forever.
Kept Animals is narrated by Rory’s daughter, Charlie, twenty years after that fateful 1993 fire. Rory is away on assignment as a war photographer, and Charlie knows the key to her own existence lies in the story of what happened during that unseasonably warm fall. And without her mother to tell her the truth, she must unravel it by herself.
Taut, propulsive, and gorgeously written, Kate Milliken’s debut is a searing exploration of girlhood, class, and fate.
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This book is another result of my Goodreads Giveaways obsession. It is the first book for accomplished poet and short story writer Kate Milliken.
The main story revolves around a horse ranch and three girls whose lives intersect there. The plot takes place in California during two different time periods, the 90s and the early 2010s and from several different perspectives. The past is from the point of view of a few different characters including Rory, and the present is told from Charlie’s (Rory’s daughter) point of view. I liked this aspect of the book as it gave me a much wider view of the characters and events.
Rory is my favorite character in the book. She eagerly delves into her mother’s past to find out what happened during a terrible wildfire almost twenty years ago. Rory wants to find out what led to the family dysfunction and why her mother keeps her at a distance. Rory is strong, resilient, and determined.
Although some of the minor characters are a bit one dimensional, the fascinating and unique major characters were the highlight of the novel. Deftly developed and intricately woven, I felt like the characters were defined and relatable. The use of dialogue and description added to the dynamic personalities and the drama, and you can feel their hope, their fears, and their heartbreaks.
The story is interesting, if a bit slow-paced. A loss of innocence and coming-of-age novel, it examines issues of abandonment, family dysfunction, sexual assault, friendships, and sexuality. These heavy topics are woven realistically and skillfully throughout the plot to create a fascinating look at how different acts in the past effect the present and the future.
Readers who enjoy fiction that switches between two different time periods and has different narrators will enjoy this piece. People who read coming-of-age novels will also appreciate this story.