A small Midwestern town hides a dark and shameful secret. When they hit puberty, teenagers “breach”, that is, they run wild and naked through the streets under the three nights of each full moon. They fight, have sex, and basically destroy everything in their way. Promising her father she’ll resist, Lumen Ann Fowler begins investigating the mystery behind this ritual. As she does, and the town’s past comes to light, it soon becomes evident that Lumen and her father are harboring secrets of their own.
~”It’s funny how many ways there are to hurt people. As many ways to hurt as there are species of flower. Whole bouquets of hurt.” ~
Did you ever read a book and wonder what it was you just read? That was my reaction after finishing this well written, yet disquieting story. The novel is written in the first person and is part memoir, part coming-of-age novel. The story begins with a now adult Lumen who is married, has a small child, and is living in a different town. As she reflects back to her childhood, the history of not only the town, but the relationship between Lumen and her father, is slowly revealed. This is a town which is completely unremarkable except for this bizarre change that affects its teenagers and marks each of them for roughly a year. In a way, the breaching reminded me of the complete breakdown of civilized behavior in Lord of the Flies. In the classic however, the breakdown happens when schoolchildren are completely isolated from adults and society. That’s not the case in this instance. The breaching, which is not supernatural in nature, has always existed in this tiny Appalachian like town, and no one seems to know why, or how to prevent it. On nights of the full moon, adults hide in their houses with their younger children and teenagers who have already breached. Then at dawn, they welcome their exhausted wild ones back home after a depravity filled night. Lumen has always been a little different from her peers, and since her mother mysteriously didn’t breach, Lumen thinks neither will she. She discovers when she’s sixteen, that she’s not immune to this condition but while she’s compelled to join the others, she’s still holds herself separate. In doing so, she discovers a mystery that leads her back to her deceased mother, and her own relationship with her father. Lumen is a complex and conflicted character. She and her father love each other, but the special closeness they had shared when she was young is no longer there. You can see how that hurt has affected her permanently during the chapters where she’s describing her present day life. She’s never told her husband about her past, and you can see how there’s a disconnect between them. Lumen, who’s now known as Ann Borden, actually finds it hard relating to anyone. It’s difficult to describe further what happens in this book without giving away spoilers. Joshua Gaylord’s narrative is beautiful, and perfectly captures the voice of the young confused Lumen who is battling both her own sexuality, and the expectations of her father and her peers. I think you could say that the entire story is a metaphor for not only adolescence, but the darker instincts that we tend to keep hidden. When We We Animals is not for everyone. Some of it is pretty disturbing. If you do decide to try it though, you won’t soon forget it.