Unlikely Animals

Ballantine. Apr. 2022. 368p. ISBN 9780593160220. $28. F
In this engaging work of magic realism from Hartnett (Rabbit Cake), readers are introduced to the deceased residents of Everton, NH, before they meet the living. The spirits of Maple Street Cemetery recall the birth of Emma, a child born with the ability to heal. Her parents want her to have a typical childhood, so Emma never develops her gift (other than a teenage turn as a healer for hire), but she heads to medical school, thinking it is her calling—until it isn’t. Emma moves to California to leave behind her brother’s addiction, her father Clive’s infidelity, and prying small-town eyes. Now her father is dying of a strange brain illness that produces animal visions, and she’s returned home. Everton is a mysterious place, with a gated wildlife reserve community most residents have never entered, a possible local drug ring, the unexplained death of a young girl, and Clive’s obsession—the disappearance of Emma’s best friend Crystal. Much unfolds here as Emma settles in and starts a job as a teacher.
VERDICT Embracing the undercurrent of fantasy in Everton, readers will contemplate how easy it is to write someone off as unredeemable or unhinged when maybe their brain works in a way most do not understand.
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