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Name All the Animals    by Alison Smith order for
Name All the Animals
by Alison Smith
Order:  USA  Can
Scribner, 2004 (2004)
Hardcover, Audio, CD
* *   Reviewed by Melissa Parcel

Alison Smith's family was extremely close until tragedy struck. Three years separated Alison from her older brother, Roy, and the two spent a great deal of time together. When she was fifteen years old, Roy was killed in a car accident. Name All the Animals is Alison's account of the toll that grief took on their family over the next few years.

Alison, her mother, and her father all react in different ways. Her mother and father turn to their Catholic faith, and Alison rejects it. Her mother focuses on building a replica of the camper van that was wrecked in the accident. Her father focuses on the saints and becomes an overprotective parent. Yet with all their obsession with keeping Alison safe, her parents fail to recognize the impact that grief has on her life. She stops eating, dropping to eighty-five pounds at one point. Her social life is basically nil, except for an affair she starts with another high school girl. As the family travels through their sorrow, each member moves toward acceptance of the fact that Roy is gone. The account is haunting, and so true-to-life that I occasionally had to put the book down and do other things. Having experienced the death of a child myself, the family's reaction to loss resonated deeply. Readers will sympathize with vivid word pictures, like descriptions of their struggles with insomnia. Each person wanders the house and yard in shifts, pretending that things are all right when everyone really knows the truth.

The account might have been even more powerful had its author let the reader know the ultimate resolution. Did Alison's parents discover her weight loss? How does she move through the anorexia? Is her lesbianism a reaction to grief, or a discovery of her true feelings? Although Smith shares with us a tragic, cathartic look at death and the anguish accompanying it, the conclusion leaves readers with many unanswered questions. That being said, Name All the Animals is a breathtaking representation of the utter heartache of losing someone whom no one is prepared to lose. Readers take a compelling, poignant journey into the sorrow of one family, while learning something about themselves in the process.

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