Name All the Animals: A Memoir by Alison Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This reads so much like a novel that I had to keep reminding myself, at first, that it is a memoir. Alison is the youngest of two children in a very Catholic family. When she is fifteen and her brother is eighteen, he dies in a road accident. From that point on, at her Catholic high school and even at home, Alison becomes The Girl Whose Brother Died, even to herself. In fact, she begins slowly starving herself, hoping to simply fade away and join him.
Sad stuff, and I have to admit that it was hard for me to get through the first half of the book. It isn't bad, it just didn't ever make me want to go back to it once I set it down. Then Alison meets transfer student Terry, and over time she discovers that she is in love with her. Their connection, conducted on the sly, under the noses of Alison's rather oblivious parents, and the nuns at school, is the life of this memoir to me. I'm a sucker for first (lesbian) love stories, and this one was engrossing on its own while also reminding me of others I've read. Terry and Alison are so natural, so sweet with each other, and it is the one thing that brings light and joy into Alison's life, that--even though it obviously couldn't last, in such a fishbowl--I loved immersing myself in it. The details, the sly remarks from Alison's classmate, her mother's crazy over-reaction, and the discipline from the nuns, is deftly portrayed and inevitable.
The nuns are a memorable and unexpectedly colorful group! Not only is Alison the Girl Whose Brother Died, but she is a straight arrow (in a manner of speaking) who makes them all want to blame the girlfriend Terry for it all, and Terry lets them. Even though this takes place in the 1980s, it's still disheartening to see Alison feel like she's bad and wrong simply for loving another girl.
Alison takes a long circuitous path from emptiness to redemption, but in the end, this often sad story about grief finds solid ground and one feels that Alison will be fine. Even though the first half was rather slow, I still count this as a favorite of mine.
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