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Name All the Animals: A Memoir

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An intensely stirring coming-of-age memoir by Alison Smith, Name All the Animals brilliantly explores the power and limitations of a family's faith. Smith was 15 when her older brother, Roy, was killed in a car accident, and her memoir follows her family as they attempt to put their lives back together. Her parents try to take comfort in their strong Catholic faith but are An intensely stirring coming-of-age memoir by Alison Smith, Name All the Animals brilliantly explores the power and limitations of a family's faith. Smith was 15 when her older brother, Roy, was killed in a car accident, and her memoir follows her family as they attempt to put their lives back together. Her parents try to take comfort in their strong Catholic faith but are nonetheless shattered. For her part, Smith wonders why God has abandoned her. She finds cold comfort in Catholic symbols and rituals, feeling a connection to Roy only when she enters the old fort they had built together. An engaging storyteller, Smith crafts her memoir to read like a novel, interspersing moving flashbacks of the times she spent with her brother with amusing portraits of the nuns at her parochial school, who sneak out of the infirmary to play cards and make autumnal visits to a secret swimming pool. As a child, Smith wonders why her father blesses her and Roy every morning, touching a relic to their foreheads, mouths, and hands, mentioning each individual body part. "He's got to name us, like Adam named the animals," Roy explained. "To keep track of them." The near impossibility of "keeping track," and the changing nature of faith are just two of the poignant messages in this unforgettable debut.


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An intensely stirring coming-of-age memoir by Alison Smith, Name All the Animals brilliantly explores the power and limitations of a family's faith. Smith was 15 when her older brother, Roy, was killed in a car accident, and her memoir follows her family as they attempt to put their lives back together. Her parents try to take comfort in their strong Catholic faith but are An intensely stirring coming-of-age memoir by Alison Smith, Name All the Animals brilliantly explores the power and limitations of a family's faith. Smith was 15 when her older brother, Roy, was killed in a car accident, and her memoir follows her family as they attempt to put their lives back together. Her parents try to take comfort in their strong Catholic faith but are nonetheless shattered. For her part, Smith wonders why God has abandoned her. She finds cold comfort in Catholic symbols and rituals, feeling a connection to Roy only when she enters the old fort they had built together. An engaging storyteller, Smith crafts her memoir to read like a novel, interspersing moving flashbacks of the times she spent with her brother with amusing portraits of the nuns at her parochial school, who sneak out of the infirmary to play cards and make autumnal visits to a secret swimming pool. As a child, Smith wonders why her father blesses her and Roy every morning, touching a relic to their foreheads, mouths, and hands, mentioning each individual body part. "He's got to name us, like Adam named the animals," Roy explained. "To keep track of them." The near impossibility of "keeping track," and the changing nature of faith are just two of the poignant messages in this unforgettable debut.

30 review for Name All the Animals: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Tracy Rhodes

    Alison Smith examines the fallout in the lives of her and her parents following the sudden death of her adored older brother Roy when she was 15. A sweet and sad book, although not without its funny moments (most involving the feisty nuns in charge of her Catholic girls' high school). Anyone from a family that has trouble reaching out to each other will be touched by the insular, lonely ways that Alison and her parents suffer from Roy's loss. Alison's slide into anorexia (weirdly overlooked by h Alison Smith examines the fallout in the lives of her and her parents following the sudden death of her adored older brother Roy when she was 15. A sweet and sad book, although not without its funny moments (most involving the feisty nuns in charge of her Catholic girls' high school). Anyone from a family that has trouble reaching out to each other will be touched by the insular, lonely ways that Alison and her parents suffer from Roy's loss. Alison's slide into anorexia (weirdly overlooked by her parents and school counselors) and her clandestine affair with a fellow schoolgirl are weighty teen-memoir stuff in themselves, but the thing that sticks with me in the end is the way she was cast adrift in her almost disabling grief by the well-meaning but oblivious adults in her life.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Richard Gilbert

    In 1984, a small, happy family lives in Rochester, New York: a resolute, devout mother; a dreamy, spiritual father; a quiet, competent boy; a watchful, bookish girl. But they’re on the brink of disaster, and, almost immediately, it happens: one day in late July the boy, eighteen, dies in a fiery automobile crash. Nothing will ever be the same. They become secretive, walled off their separate grieving, as the accident’s aftershocks go on and on. Alison Smith, who was fifteen when her brother Roy d In 1984, a small, happy family lives in Rochester, New York: a resolute, devout mother; a dreamy, spiritual father; a quiet, competent boy; a watchful, bookish girl. But they’re on the brink of disaster, and, almost immediately, it happens: one day in late July the boy, eighteen, dies in a fiery automobile crash. Nothing will ever be the same. They become secretive, walled off their separate grieving, as the accident’s aftershocks go on and on. Alison Smith, who was fifteen when her brother Roy died, writes hushed, gorgeous prose (few contractions lend solemnity), and shows the survivors staggering forward under heartbreaking loss. “We had lost the thread of our own story,” she writes. Alison can only rejoice in the “Before People,” her term for anyone who doesn’t yet know of Roy’s death: inside their heads, he’s still alive. Her relentlessly positive-thinking mother, having insisted a month after Roy’s death on making the family’s annual trek to Cape Cod, throws herself into the ocean just like she and her son used to. She orders onion rings, his favorite beach snack, and eats them grimly. Her stunned father plods like a zombie into the surf, still wearing his slacks and socks. Smith says neither side of her family “was good at much,” these people who held modest jobs, went bankrupt, or died early, but faith had been their talent: "My brother and I grew up in the shadow of this faith, in the great floodplain of belief. Christ was more real to me than the children I met at school. As I was walking to the school bus or down the path through the gully at the end of our street, Christ would appear to me, his long robes flowing, his white and bruised hands held out. He was my comforter, my most intimate friend. I knew only Catholics in those early days. And our only differences were Catholic differences: the Sisters of Saint Joseph as opposed to the Sisters of Mercy. Pope John Paul the First or Pope John Paul the Second. In these surroundings you’d be hard-pressed not to believe in the existence of God. It would be like saying you did not believe in oatmeal, or motorcars, or the laws of gravity. . . . Hell was a real place for us, as real as the next neighborhood. In our insular Catholic world, hell practically had its own zip code. Every year in school we had to write an essay about what hell was like, how it looked, the people who ended up there, what it would be like to spend eternity in that fiery pit." For Alison, Jesus vanished the day her brother died; a period began that, if not hell, resembled limbo. Name All the Animals shows the dazed girl drift from age fifteen to eighteen as she struggles with overwhelming loss, isolated from her burdened, distracted parents—they are at once overprotective and oblivious toward her. There isn’t much authorial distance: narrated by a bereft girl, with scant mature perspective, the story has a poignant immediacy. Smith’s fifty-five short to middling-length chapters move the book like a freight train, largely because each ends with a hook. Scenes cross from one chapter into another, or a chapter opens by musing upon a character we’ve just seen in action before entering another compelling scene. Smith makes this seamless narrative look easy, and always keeps the timeline clear, but she has said that writing the book took her six years. Gradually Name All the Animals (the title is a biblical allusion) brings into painful focus how Alison’s loss has colonized her life. It is also a portrait of her parents; her Catholic girls’ school; her quirky classmate friends; various nuns and lay teachers, mostly sympathetic figures who in many cases provide comic relief. We’re privy to her growing rebellion and to her disordered emotions. Alison’s quiet but deepening self-destructiveness and her forbidden sexuality (which leaps from sweet attraction to passion to scandal and turmoil) within a chaste, deeply conservative culture provoke linked crises that make this book impossible to put down. Name All the Animals is a book to savor, for although it’s driven by a strong unfolding narrative, Smith pauses within it. She lingers on a facial expression, the weather, the feel of an ordinary school day, her neighborhood at night. And so the book breathes, deeply felt, and achieves a rare resonance.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Saipriya

    Alison Smith has written a memoir from an important but rarely talked about point of view. When someone dies young, our society tends to empathize with the parents, but the sibling role is just as significant. Alison bravely tells the story of her brother Roy's tragic death and the repercussions that follow his passing. Alison not only has to try to overcome her immense grief, but also has to deal with the fact that the roles in her family almost reverse. Her parents are just as distraught as Al Alison Smith has written a memoir from an important but rarely talked about point of view. When someone dies young, our society tends to empathize with the parents, but the sibling role is just as significant. Alison bravely tells the story of her brother Roy's tragic death and the repercussions that follow his passing. Alison not only has to try to overcome her immense grief, but also has to deal with the fact that the roles in her family almost reverse. Her parents are just as distraught as Alison. They seek her out for comfort, instead of the other way around. Her parents say that Alison is the only thing they have left after Roy’s death, and they make an extra effort to make sure Alison won’t be taken away from them, like her brother. However, this makes Alison become even more detached from her friends, as people start to view her as just the girl whose brother died. One of my favorite parts of the memoir was when Alison was doing a debate in one of her classes at Mercy and was put on the side in favor of gay and lesbian rights. One by one, all of the other girls on Alison's side switched to the other side because they didn't think they could win, while Alison remained on her side despite what others would think of her. When one of her classmates asked her if she was only staying on her side so that she could get a good grade, Alison replied, "No. I believe every word of it." That particular moment was just so powerful to me, and it made me root for Alison even more. I felt like it was the first time she was passionate about something since Roy had died and she had regained her spirit. Alison tells her story honestly and from a non-judgmental point of view. Although at first it may seem like a grievous, dismal story, it is truly a story about hope, overcoming obstacles, and embracing who you really are. This memoir wasn’t just a required summer reading book to me; it was a relatable and powerful story that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Dinah

    There's something to be said for matching form and content: Alison Smith's memoir puts the reader in the slow, foggy haze she describes in the months and years following her brother's death. That being said, it doesn't make for a super-engaging read. The form/content match holds up when the narrative moves on to the author's first experience with love in high school; the pace picks up, the text becomes vivid and seems to almost pitter-patter, drawing the reader in to the perilous world of secret There's something to be said for matching form and content: Alison Smith's memoir puts the reader in the slow, foggy haze she describes in the months and years following her brother's death. That being said, it doesn't make for a super-engaging read. The form/content match holds up when the narrative moves on to the author's first experience with love in high school; the pace picks up, the text becomes vivid and seems to almost pitter-patter, drawing the reader in to the perilous world of secret trysts in a school run by nuns who are Draconian and benevolent by turns. Still, this casts the foggy parts of the book in an even drearier light... if an author is capable of writing this way, in a way I really want to keep reading, why all the drudgery? Yes, yes, she's taking us through the experience of sibling loss. But one has to wonder if there wasn't an alternative structure for the book that could lift us out of the wilderness every fifty pages or so, rather than waiting til two thirds of the way through to show any light at the end of the tunnel. I also felt a little cheated by the themes and tropes set up in the beginning of the book that were never really brought full circle, or in some cases, were completely abandoned. The title was beautifully explained within the first few chapters, returned to once in a touching if slightly forced allusion, and then lost for the entire second half of the book. One gets the sense that Smith didn't really know how to draw it all together which, again!, is emblematic of the topic... but frankly I think there was more closure out there to be found, for the reader if not for the sister.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    man, i'm getting really tired of reading books that are just okay. somebody do me a favor and recommend an awesome book to me, please. yeah, i'm a little biased against nonfiction, and that may have something to do with it, but this chick is just not a very good writer. she uses the same descriptive phrases over and over, which is really sloppy, and the book is poorly structured. that said, i did sympathize with her. if there was a half-star option i probably would've given this book two and a h man, i'm getting really tired of reading books that are just okay. somebody do me a favor and recommend an awesome book to me, please. yeah, i'm a little biased against nonfiction, and that may have something to do with it, but this chick is just not a very good writer. she uses the same descriptive phrases over and over, which is really sloppy, and the book is poorly structured. that said, i did sympathize with her. if there was a half-star option i probably would've given this book two and a half stars, but still, not so good.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kristen Ward

    Name All the Animals is an example of what a memoir should be. Allison Smith manages to take readers on a journey, as she recounts her coping with the loss of her older brother, Roy. She is unsentimental when the reader see's her starving herself, as she tries to make sense of Roy's death. Smith uses the craft of memoir beautifully as she shows readers the exact moment that she stopped believing in Jesus. With amazing concepts like the "before people",The people who didn't know Roy had died, and Name All the Animals is an example of what a memoir should be. Allison Smith manages to take readers on a journey, as she recounts her coping with the loss of her older brother, Roy. She is unsentimental when the reader see's her starving herself, as she tries to make sense of Roy's death. Smith uses the craft of memoir beautifully as she shows readers the exact moment that she stopped believing in Jesus. With amazing concepts like the "before people",The people who didn't know Roy had died, and "playing Kremlin",the nickname Roy and Allison gives their mom when she is hiding her feelings, the reader feels the family's suffering. Smith shows the relationship between her brother Roy and her in color, from their childhood to the night before he died when he was eighteen and she was fifteen. You start reading the book as an outsider, by the end of the piece t you are sucked into the family dynamic. As you read through this story, you feel a range of emotions. Just when you think the story is at its most distraught moment, the cheeky nuns at Allison's school lighten the mood. This is a must read. If you're looking for a memoir that reads like a fiction, this is the book for you!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Meegan Soule' Warne

    Name All the Animals, for me, was a theraputic journey. It is about death, grief, and recovery. The writer, Alison, experiences the death of her brother when she is only 15. He is killed tragically in a car accident. The book takes you into the heart and lives of her family as they walk through this very dark spot in their lives. I absolutely loved her style of writing and how she was so raw, taking the reader to unexpected places in her life. Losing my own brother tragically, I was able to iden Name All the Animals, for me, was a theraputic journey. It is about death, grief, and recovery. The writer, Alison, experiences the death of her brother when she is only 15. He is killed tragically in a car accident. The book takes you into the heart and lives of her family as they walk through this very dark spot in their lives. I absolutely loved her style of writing and how she was so raw, taking the reader to unexpected places in her life. Losing my own brother tragically, I was able to identify with so many of her feelings, emotions, and unanswered questions.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Carly

    I really enjoyed this memoir. Part of why I enjoyed it is likely due to the fact that I can relate to losing a sibling while in my teen years. Another part is that Smith is an excellent writer. She writes without judgement and simply states what was happening and lets the reader decide how to feel about it all, even when her mother says some pretty devastating things. She paints such a vivid picture of the nuns at her school, her home life, and the struggles after her brother's death that it is I really enjoyed this memoir. Part of why I enjoyed it is likely due to the fact that I can relate to losing a sibling while in my teen years. Another part is that Smith is an excellent writer. She writes without judgement and simply states what was happening and lets the reader decide how to feel about it all, even when her mother says some pretty devastating things. She paints such a vivid picture of the nuns at her school, her home life, and the struggles after her brother's death that it is an easy story to get lost into.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sasha Martinez

    This memoir has been on my TBR LandMass for about three years, ever since I bought it on a whim while I was hanging out at the bookstore one slow afternoon (I probably felt like I had to justify the space I took up there). And, well, it took me this long to read it, and thank goodness it was worth the wait–then again, I hadn’t waited, as much as I procrastinated. In some editions, the book’s subtitle is A Memoir of the Child Left Behind–and that’s what Alison Smith was. When she was fifteen, the This memoir has been on my TBR LandMass for about three years, ever since I bought it on a whim while I was hanging out at the bookstore one slow afternoon (I probably felt like I had to justify the space I took up there). And, well, it took me this long to read it, and thank goodness it was worth the wait–then again, I hadn’t waited, as much as I procrastinated. In some editions, the book’s subtitle is A Memoir of the Child Left Behind–and that’s what Alison Smith was. When she was fifteen, the brother she was so close to their mother named them a unit (Alroy) died in an accident, and her family tried to cope–with distractions, with religion, with hanging on to her. As Alison’s father kept repeating to her, “You’re all I have left, baby.” Dealing with the death of her brother, dealing with the idiosyncrasies of her parents and how everyone now tiptoed around her, adolescence, for Alison, was still a time for self-discovery. In the three years we are with her in this book, we see the effects of the accident and the consequences of her grief. We also see her coming to grips with her sexuality, falling in love for the first time, and just trying to deal, you know? As she matter-of-factly states, "I could not be anything other than the-girl-whose-brother-died." Man. It’s a beautiful memoir. Several times, I wanted to reach in and hug Alison. Very very good read. The rest of my review-as-I-read-it can be found here.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    I loved this beautifully written memoir. It reads very much like a "coming of age" novel and explores so many facets of life at age fifteen. Alison is 15 when her only sibling, Roy, is killed in a sudden and terrible accident. She and her brother were so close that they shared a common nickname, Alroy, and suddenly Alison has to figure out who she is without Roy. She attends an all-girls Catholic school and tries to come to terms with her lack of religious conviction. She feels that God and Roy I loved this beautifully written memoir. It reads very much like a "coming of age" novel and explores so many facets of life at age fifteen. Alison is 15 when her only sibling, Roy, is killed in a sudden and terrible accident. She and her brother were so close that they shared a common nickname, Alroy, and suddenly Alison has to figure out who she is without Roy. She attends an all-girls Catholic school and tries to come to terms with her lack of religious conviction. She feels that God and Roy left her at the same time and her parents, devout and unquestioning, cannot help Alison with her lack of faith. Some of the nuns at the school are stereotypical but Sister Aggie is a bright light. She is kind, intuitive and irreverent. (I really appreciate irreverence in a nun!) There is so much more to this story than the grief and loss. Alison explores her sexuality and experiences her first great love. She suffers from anorexia and, again, her parents are too deep in their own grief to notice. High school isn't easy for anyone but is especially hard for "the girl who lost her brother." This is a story of survival against so many odds. It is a beautifully written book and highly recommended!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lydia

    I really want to classify this novel as contemporary, but the time in it is a bit dated. The key is this novel made me cry. Alison and her brother Roy were so close, despite their 2.5 years difference in age, that her mother called them "AlRoy". When Royden dies in a car crash, Alison is caught in a spiritual conundrum. Their entire family are highly bound in the Catholic religion and Alison is in wonder where and when her brother will return to her. In the process, Alison must also experience he I really want to classify this novel as contemporary, but the time in it is a bit dated. The key is this novel made me cry. Alison and her brother Roy were so close, despite their 2.5 years difference in age, that her mother called them "AlRoy". When Royden dies in a car crash, Alison is caught in a spiritual conundrum. Their entire family are highly bound in the Catholic religion and Alison is in wonder where and when her brother will return to her. In the process, Alison must also experience her own growth, involving anorexia and discovering she is a lesbian. This novel of loss and discovery caught my heart so deeply. I highly recommend this novel for all persons who are not only in the discovery of coming out, but have also been caught in the bounds of their religion.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kimmy

    Name All the Animals starts out by throwing you into the day the author's older brother dies in a car accident. From there on it's a slow burning study of her parents coping methods and her own struggle with anorexia and high school. For some reason, for a lot of this book I felt like I was on the outside looking in and not really seeing the whole picture. I feel like the author could have done a better job telling what she was actually feeling instead of describing her actions and forcing us to Name All the Animals starts out by throwing you into the day the author's older brother dies in a car accident. From there on it's a slow burning study of her parents coping methods and her own struggle with anorexia and high school. For some reason, for a lot of this book I felt like I was on the outside looking in and not really seeing the whole picture. I feel like the author could have done a better job telling what she was actually feeling instead of describing her actions and forcing us to guess at her motivation for those actions. I never really got a real sense of sadness, grief, or depression from the author, more just a sort of fogginess. And maybe that's how the author was actually feeling at the time but more than anything it felt like something was missing.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Candice

    This is a work of non-fiction, dealing with the effects of a young boy's death on his family. It is told from the point of view of his sister, Alison, who was 15 when her 18-year-old brother died. The book is saturated with grief, but is not depressing. It shows how everyone deals with grief in his or her own way. The time frame takes Alison through her last three years of high school at a Catholic Girls' school in New York state and include her first romance.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Alison Smith

    An unusual and engaging memoir. For full review please go to http://thebooksmithblog.wordpress.com An unusual and engaging memoir. For full review please go to http://thebooksmithblog.wordpress.com

  15. 4 out of 5

    Shay Caroline

    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 h 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.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    Alison Smith's memoir, Name All the Animals, is wonderful. It is not often that a writer can depict so much beauty through their words that you feel as if you are experiencing what they are going through. Smith is able to use the subject of her life at a particularly painful time and transport the reader through her imagery to feel her and her parents pain, confusion, struggle and resolution as a result of her brother's death. The memoir begins with the fifteen year old Smith, discovering her 18 Alison Smith's memoir, Name All the Animals, is wonderful. It is not often that a writer can depict so much beauty through their words that you feel as if you are experiencing what they are going through. Smith is able to use the subject of her life at a particularly painful time and transport the reader through her imagery to feel her and her parents pain, confusion, struggle and resolution as a result of her brother's death. The memoir begins with the fifteen year old Smith, discovering her 18 year old brother Roy has just died in a car accident. Everything is conveyed in such a clear, honest sense that you can easily imagine yourself in the families place, walking around on automatic just trying to grasp the enormity of the situation. Every member of the family deals with Roy's death in a different way, but all are clearly devastated. In this sense, the novel recounts without judgement how her parents focused on dealing with their son's death and as a result went to some extreme measures to protect her from the entire story and at the same time ignored alot of her signals for help. This in no way diminishes her admiration or devotion to her parents and her descriptons of their childhoods and courtship is particularly touching. On top of everything is the additional burden of going through adolescence during this traumatic time and we read about the measures Alison takes to keep Roy's memory alive. Much of the poignancy in this novel centers on Smith's relationships in highschool with her first crush, friends and the nuns at the Catholic School. As she approaches the end of her teenage years, her adulthood is marked with the acceptance of her brother's death and her decision to live and move on with her life. It is just a wonderfully written and touching story and I hope to see more work by Alison Smith.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Tima

    A very touching, loving memoir of a girl's struggle of life after the unexpected death of her brother and the story of her first love, a highly controversial one in her religious family & school. At times, I found Alison Smith to be infuriating in her writing style. I can't explain exactly what set me off, I was just rubbed the wrong way. Such a tiny, almost insignificant problem though. Overall, this story was a unique coming-of-age tale intertwined with grief. Grief in the loss of her brother, A very touching, loving memoir of a girl's struggle of life after the unexpected death of her brother and the story of her first love, a highly controversial one in her religious family & school. At times, I found Alison Smith to be infuriating in her writing style. I can't explain exactly what set me off, I was just rubbed the wrong way. Such a tiny, almost insignificant problem though. Overall, this story was a unique coming-of-age tale intertwined with grief. Grief in the loss of her brother, grief in the heart-breaking first love she could not make work. It covers eating disorders, tests of her personal faith [of which she lacks] and of her parents seemingly impenetrable faith and the undercurrent of their grief-stricken marriage. Favorite Quotes: 1) “Losing your faith in a world where God is all around you is a precarious business. When God shows his face on a daily basis to your friends and neighbors, it is, on some level, impossible to stop believing in Him. Instead i felt that God chose to exclude me from His world. Since i was the only one to lose faith, to stop hearing Christ's voice, i thought perhaps it was my fault that Roy had left us. I thought i was being punished for some unknown sin. I had learned early in my Catholic career that one could sin silently in one's heart. One could even sin without ever discovering what one had done or why it was wrong. What had i done, i asked myself, to make God disappear and take Roy with Him.” 2) "I could not be anything other than the-girl-whose-brother-died." 3) "Grief can blind you; it pulls loose the seam of memory. It weakens your senses."

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Alison Smith's book is ostensibly the story of how her family comes to deal with the premature death of her older brother, Roy, a quiet, physics loving track student who is killed in a car accident the summer he is supposed to go off to college. In fact, the book is more of a young girl coming of age in the early 80's. The book begins with loving memories of brother Roy, and of their parents. After some background, we fast forward to the day on which Roy is killed and the days immediately followin Alison Smith's book is ostensibly the story of how her family comes to deal with the premature death of her older brother, Roy, a quiet, physics loving track student who is killed in a car accident the summer he is supposed to go off to college. In fact, the book is more of a young girl coming of age in the early 80's. The book begins with loving memories of brother Roy, and of their parents. After some background, we fast forward to the day on which Roy is killed and the days immediately following. As the family struggles to come to grips with their loss, Alison deals with suddenly being an only child and "the only thing her parents have left." When school starts again, Alison becomes "the girl whose brother died". Going to an all-girls Catholic school in Western New York, she is surrounded by girls and nuns and lay teachers who don't know how to help her as she deals not only with grief, but with her awakening sense of her place in the world. Eventually, becoming both anorexic and realizing she is a lesbian, Smith learns the true details of her brother's death, which send her futher spiraling down into a pit of depression--one her well-meaning parents have dealt with for three years, knowing how Roy died and refusing to tell their daughter. When Alison rejects her parents' religion and simultaneously learns to drive, we see the first real portraits of grief the family is suffering. The book is a very good, quick, and interesting read, although not what is promised on the 'blurb'.

  19. 5 out of 5

    momruncraft

    I am torn as to how to review/rate this book. It is not a novel. It represents someone's life. A memoir. I fall somewhere between a two star and three star rating. While there were some real take-your-breath-away moments, I found the book as a whole to be eh. Wrapped in grief, it is the life story of a sister who lost her brother tragically in a car accident. From her side, we see how tragedy affects the entire family. How as "all the parents have left" her life is formidably changed forever. Sh I am torn as to how to review/rate this book. It is not a novel. It represents someone's life. A memoir. I fall somewhere between a two star and three star rating. While there were some real take-your-breath-away moments, I found the book as a whole to be eh. Wrapped in grief, it is the life story of a sister who lost her brother tragically in a car accident. From her side, we see how tragedy affects the entire family. How as "all the parents have left" her life is formidably changed forever. She exists in a world of before people and after people: those who knew the family before and those after. People often stop and stare at her..."the girl who lost her brother". Her parents unable to properly navigate the world after the accident become distant. She loses the comfort of a loving family and goes at her grief alone. The back cover describes the book as "a story of grief and secret love". The love affair described is one with someone outside of the family but is the focus of much more than the accident. Or the family. I can see why the author does this as she regains something she thought she had lost forever; however, it was not the premise under which I bought the book. Overall, disappointing read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Glenn

    Alison Smith’s “Name All the Animals” manages a very difficult balancing act. It is, to me, a tri-partite story. The main story of the terrible grief of losing a loved one, the events and impact of a strong religious faith both being practiced, tested and transformed, and the emerging sexual identity of a teenager, all during the period of grief following a great tragedy. If Alison Smith failed to make any of the three legs of the story stand convincingly, the whole book would’ve toppled over. An Alison Smith’s “Name All the Animals” manages a very difficult balancing act. It is, to me, a tri-partite story. The main story of the terrible grief of losing a loved one, the events and impact of a strong religious faith both being practiced, tested and transformed, and the emerging sexual identity of a teenager, all during the period of grief following a great tragedy. If Alison Smith failed to make any of the three legs of the story stand convincingly, the whole book would’ve toppled over. And it’s to her great credit that she brings out clearly the people in her life, making them completely three-dimensional in their weakness and in their strength. Throughout the book, the most powerful presence is that of her brother, who flits like a ghost around her, yet is more present in many ways than the people left behind to mourn, and those who surrounds her in her day-to-day life. Alison Smith makes art out of tragedy, and throughout the book you feel a sense of connectedness to her story that is unforced, and natural, beyond that of the natural empathy one feels when confronted with someone else’s sorrow. It’s a powerful and moving book.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    I'm currently on a memoir/creative non-fiction kick. I picked this one up with two others, and I could only get 1/2 through it. My inability to read it is not related to the writing. For me, it hit way too close to home. The book is about a young girl whose brother (I think Roy is 17 or 18 and about to leave for college) is killed in a car accident. The book deals with the aftermath of the accident and the impact it has on her and her family. This is the first time I've read a book where someone I'm currently on a memoir/creative non-fiction kick. I picked this one up with two others, and I could only get 1/2 through it. My inability to read it is not related to the writing. For me, it hit way too close to home. The book is about a young girl whose brother (I think Roy is 17 or 18 and about to leave for college) is killed in a car accident. The book deals with the aftermath of the accident and the impact it has on her and her family. This is the first time I've read a book where someone really articulated what it is like to lose a loved one in a tragic and unexpected way. While I read, I knew exactly what she was talking about, and sometimes I felt like this woman had snuck into my psyche and written things I couldn't say out loud after my dad died. For me, the circumstances of the accident, and later, her finally reading the article that was written about the accident were where I had to call it quits. For me, it was emotional torture at times, and I cried my eyes out. So, I'd say it is a good read; however, for me, I just couldn't do it. Kudos to the author. I can't imagine what is was like to write.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance

    Alison Smith and her brother, Roy, were as close as siblings can be when they were children. Suddenly, at eighteen, Roy is killed in a terrible automobile accident. His loss to the family is like an enormous black hole, sucking all the other members of the family into never-never land. This is the first book I've ever received from a book publisher and I was terrified I would hate it and have to pan it. (sigh of relief) Not a chance here. Alison Smith is an excellent storyteller, with a perfec Alison Smith and her brother, Roy, were as close as siblings can be when they were children. Suddenly, at eighteen, Roy is killed in a terrible automobile accident. His loss to the family is like an enormous black hole, sucking all the other members of the family into never-never land. This is the first book I've ever received from a book publisher and I was terrified I would hate it and have to pan it. (sigh of relief) Not a chance here. Alison Smith is an excellent storyteller, with a perfect sense of where to start and where to stop and what details to include. In addition, Smith has a compelling story to tell. Recommended.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Bynum

    As children, siblings Alison and Roy Smith were so close that their mother called them by one name: Alroy. But on a cool summer morning when Alison was fifteen, she woke to learn that Roy, eighteen, was dead. This is Smith's extraordinary account of the impact of that loss -- on herself, on her parents, and on a deeply religious community. At home, Alison and her parents sleepwalk in shifts. Alison hoards food for her lost brother, hides in the backyard fort they built together, and waits for him As children, siblings Alison and Roy Smith were so close that their mother called them by one name: Alroy. But on a cool summer morning when Alison was fifteen, she woke to learn that Roy, eighteen, was dead. This is Smith's extraordinary account of the impact of that loss -- on herself, on her parents, and on a deeply religious community. At home, Alison and her parents sleepwalk in shifts. Alison hoards food for her lost brother, hides in the backyard fort they built together, and waits for him to return. During the day, she breaks every rule at Our Lady of Mercy School for Girls, where the baffled but loving nuns offer prayer, Shakespeare, and a job running the switchboard. In the end, Alison finds her own way to survive: a startling and taboo first love that helps her discover a world beyond the death of her brother. This book was really sad. And then, just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, it did. There were a couple times I caught myself shaking my head, making sympathetic noises. It was painful. But SO GOOD.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Writer's Relief

    Alison Smith was sure of two things as a little girl: She loved her big brother Roy, and she believed in Jesus Christ. But following Roy’s sudden death in a car crash, Alison is left to face the world alone and, when she turns to God, she finds nothing. Smith’s memoir starts out chronicling the aftermath of her brother’s tragic death—her parents’ immense grief, the newspaper articles detailing the gruesome crash, her own struggle to find her place in the world. It’s not until Alison is sent to a Alison Smith was sure of two things as a little girl: She loved her big brother Roy, and she believed in Jesus Christ. But following Roy’s sudden death in a car crash, Alison is left to face the world alone and, when she turns to God, she finds nothing. Smith’s memoir starts out chronicling the aftermath of her brother’s tragic death—her parents’ immense grief, the newspaper articles detailing the gruesome crash, her own struggle to find her place in the world. It’s not until Alison is sent to an all-girls Catholic school that the second piece of the memoir comes to light: Alison falls in love with a girl. The confusion of her feelings is coupled with the fact that her Catholic community disapproves and, more importantly, her parents cannot understand. It would have been all too easy for Smith to make this memoir a sob story, three hundred pages of tears and resentment. Instead, it’s a story of resilience, love, the bond of family, the ability for all wounds to heal, and the noble idea that the truest faith is found within.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn in FL

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Even as I type, I keep erasing what I've written. I am not sure how to approach this review. Mainly because I am ambivalent on how I truly feel about the book or the people in it. This is my third attempt and as I have now read approx. a dozen reviews, I have reached several conclusions. People either really like the book or they don't. Most people felt challenged writing their review, primarily because of the writing style. Some of these people felt the book was written more as a novel and less Even as I type, I keep erasing what I've written. I am not sure how to approach this review. Mainly because I am ambivalent on how I truly feel about the book or the people in it. This is my third attempt and as I have now read approx. a dozen reviews, I have reached several conclusions. People either really like the book or they don't. Most people felt challenged writing their review, primarily because of the writing style. Some of these people felt the book was written more as a novel and less as a memoir, which added to the lack of satiety. For the most part, people seem connected to the author's loss and there are some rave reviews, meanwhile, I fall in agreement with some of the less stellar reviews. One in particular points out, you don't start a story with the graphic telling of your first menstrual experience - I couldn't agree more! I will add that you don't intentionally shock your audience with aggressive sexual acts with a female friend, when you don't give any indication that there is sexual attraction present (this isn't fiction). I was expecting a story on grief not a "coming out of the closet" while in Catholic High School story. I think the publisher oversold this story. I am not a prude. If I had wanted to explore Ms. Smith's sexual awakening, I wish I had some sort of warning (though after reading the story, I see it won some LBGTQ award). Though it was not as graphic as the description of her first menstrual cycle, Alison seems to be very indifferent to the turmoil her girlfriend later experiences because Alison lacks sensitivity and respect for Terry's situation. Ms. Smith seems to have had so many conflicting emotions after the sudden death of Roy, her older (and only brother/sibling) that she committed to exploring each one (to some degree) on paper. While that may have been therapeutic, I didn't find it the most compelling way to tell her story nor share her angst. Smith does convey the deep disconnect from reality when her closest friend/brother dies and she alone must soldier on. She gives a vivid account of hiding in the bathroom during the week of his death and having a visual experience of Jesus sitting on the bathtub edge and getting up and abandoning her to her pain. I found this deeply disturbing (as did she) and it is from this point forward, she abandons her faith to the point of eventually telling her parents just a few days prior to his 3rd anniversary death, that she doesn't believe in God (a very ugly scene). This acknowledgment seems to break her mother to the point of taking to her bed for a week of tears and wailing (perhaps her first time truly grieving the loss of Roy). Meanwhile, her father coped with the loss of his treasured son by maintaining daily conversations with a 3" statue of St. Jude, which resided on their dining table. Though Smith was attending a Catholic School for girls and worked part-time at the attached convent, the nuns seem only able to give her a lot of room to act out in various ways but with little attempt to address her anorexia or her morose behaviors. Eventually, she is caught with her lesbian lover, Terry asleep in a nun's bed (who was out of town for the night), yet, nothing happens (though there is a sentence alluding to Terry having to face the music on some level). Despite, the vague reference to physical abuse in Terry's life (home?), Ms. Smith continues to prod Terry to make their relationship public. Despite Terry's continual pleas to the contrary, Alison gives her a sudden big smooch at the school's spring carnival - in front of any one present, which included children of various ages from the families of those in attendance, as well as the community and Ms. Smith's own parents. Terry is horrified. I was too! Without much more information, we are told that Alison rationalized that there was 18 days before the end of the school year, so it was no big deal for Terry to "face the music" of her actions. It didn't seem like Terry felt that way! Next scene! Even that dynamic is only observed from a surface level. This was the beginning of the end and when Terry moves away for college their connection fizzles altogether. Maybe the author was surprised but I wasn't. Ms. Smith becomes less sympathetic the further the story progressed until I really didn't care much for her. I found her selfish and unfeeling, particularly to those who loved her. Yes, I know she was depressed and depressed people don't connect well with others... When I started this journey, I expected to connect with author emotionally, since I suffered a similar loss at a tender age. Though I understood her detachment as a tool of survival, as well as some of her disturbing behaviors to cope, I felt a lack of connection to her or her pain. I wanted to and by midway almost tossed the book aside because I didn't connect. I chose to hang in there to see if there was healing or at least an epiphany regarding her suffering, did she rise like a phoenix from the ashes? Sadly, I suspect that 30 years later, she is probably still stuck. I hope I am wrong. It is very apparent that no one other than her mother and Terry made an effort to help her process her grief; (her father was too stuck in his own pain to see hers). She seemed to resent their attempts and painted them in less than a kind light for doing so. Suffice it to say, everyone grieves in their own time and their own distinctive way and there is no right or wrong way to mourn a loved one. I was very disappointed that the nuns, whom had 3 years to observe her spiral into the abyss of depression did nothing to intervene. 2 Stars seems appropriate to me since the book was as much about coming out as it was coming of age. The story that meandered in several directions without a clear destination and the reader wonders what has happened 30 years since then? I like some other readers closed the book without any closure.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Bookmarks Magazine

    The title refers to Adam in the Garden of Eden, an apt metaphor for Smith's imperfect, even devastating, coming of age. Critics loved this first memoir, heavy in themes but subtle in presentation. Although Smith focuses primarily on herself, her relationship with Roy--and, through vivid memories, Roy himself--form the narrative's backdrop. Some passages verge on the maudlin. Smith saves food for Roy, cherishes his old sneakers, and communes with him at night. Yet she describes her life without R The title refers to Adam in the Garden of Eden, an apt metaphor for Smith's imperfect, even devastating, coming of age. Critics loved this first memoir, heavy in themes but subtle in presentation. Although Smith focuses primarily on herself, her relationship with Roy--and, through vivid memories, Roy himself--form the narrative's backdrop. Some passages verge on the maudlin. Smith saves food for Roy, cherishes his old sneakers, and communes with him at night. Yet she describes her life without Roy in a calm, clear prose that suggests her painful search for meaning in life. Name All the Animals is a touching portrait of adolescence, when hell, particularly an insular Catholic one, can be "as real as the next neighborhood." This is an excerpt from a review published in Bookmarks magazine.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kate Savage

    This book is about death and sexuality and faith and bodies, and also it's a memoir. That means it has all my favorite things, besides maybe invertebrates. But something needled me about it -- the writing style is more dependent on big on-the-nose metaphors than tight prose, and time kind of lulls by. I nearly put the book aside at the beginning ("ok, this is a book about grieving a dead brother, which is important but not where my mind is right now"), but felt my interest return as the narrator This book is about death and sexuality and faith and bodies, and also it's a memoir. That means it has all my favorite things, besides maybe invertebrates. But something needled me about it -- the writing style is more dependent on big on-the-nose metaphors than tight prose, and time kind of lulls by. I nearly put the book aside at the beginning ("ok, this is a book about grieving a dead brother, which is important but not where my mind is right now"), but felt my interest return as the narrator grew older ("oh this is a book about grief AND everything else"). I'm glad I stuck with it. I think people delving into questions of faith and sexuality and family could benefit from reading this book -- but also, folks writing creative non-fiction and memoir will improve their writing by wrestling with this book, whether or not they are in love with Smith's style.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Isabel

    I actually really liked this book a lot. I would have given it 4 stars if the ending gave me (the reader) a better sense of closure. I'm a closer kinda gal. I like things to be wrapped up. I guess the memoir was supposed to truly focus on the author's handling of her brother's death. And in that case...it does a great job, especially the question and answer section at the end of the book. But her sexuality begins to play an enormous role and there doesn't seem to be any explanation of how she and I actually really liked this book a lot. I would have given it 4 stars if the ending gave me (the reader) a better sense of closure. I'm a closer kinda gal. I like things to be wrapped up. I guess the memoir was supposed to truly focus on the author's handling of her brother's death. And in that case...it does a great job, especially the question and answer section at the end of the book. But her sexuality begins to play an enormous role and there doesn't seem to be any explanation of how she and her family come to terms with all that entails. The ending just left me wanting more clarification. I finished it within two days...so that says a lot about a book. I guess I just wish I knew more.

  29. 4 out of 5

    a.novel.femme

    i taught this book for a writing course, and the way she crafts the text straddles the admittedly delicate line between memoir and fiction beautifully. smith is able to weave together the grief her family feels at losing roy, the consequent loss of her religious faith, and her understanding of a nascent sexuality in a way that is both simple and poetic. other themes come up a bit briefly -- the idea of the "other," both sexual and racial, the desire for freedom, intellectual curiosity, etc. -- a i taught this book for a writing course, and the way she crafts the text straddles the admittedly delicate line between memoir and fiction beautifully. smith is able to weave together the grief her family feels at losing roy, the consequent loss of her religious faith, and her understanding of a nascent sexuality in a way that is both simple and poetic. other themes come up a bit briefly -- the idea of the "other," both sexual and racial, the desire for freedom, intellectual curiosity, etc. -- and i wish she had touched upon them more. the majority of my freshmen were intrigued all the way through, so that has to be saying something.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Dawn Meyer

    I loved this book. It deals with three different issues that Alison faces; losing her brother, losing her faith, and falling for her first love. I think the reason I enjoyed reading this memoir was because it was so real, so regular...I found myself totally understanding Alison. Her memories of family and growing up with a brother sounded so familiar - although my experiences were definitely different. This is a quick read that showed me how someone's life can be put on pause when a family membe I loved this book. It deals with three different issues that Alison faces; losing her brother, losing her faith, and falling for her first love. I think the reason I enjoyed reading this memoir was because it was so real, so regular...I found myself totally understanding Alison. Her memories of family and growing up with a brother sounded so familiar - although my experiences were definitely different. This is a quick read that showed me how someone's life can be put on pause when a family member is lost.

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