Book Review: Migratory Animals by Mary Helen Specht 1

Migratory_Animals[1]Title: Migratory Animals

Author: Mary Helen Specht

Genre: Literary Fiction

Published: January 20, 2015


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A powerful debut novel about a group of 30-somethings struggling for connection and belonging, Migratory Animals centers on a protagonist who finds herself torn between love and duty

“An ambitious, highly accomplished debut.” —Ben Fountain, author ofBilly Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

When Flannery, a young scientist, is forced to return to Austin from five years of research in Nigeria, she becomes torn between her two homes. Having left behind her loving fiancé without knowing when she can return, Flan learns that her sister, Molly, has begun to show signs of the crippling genetic disease that slowly killed their mother.

As their close-knit circle of friends struggles with Molly’s diagnosis, Flannery must grapple with what her future will hold: an ambitious life of love and the pursuit of scientific discovery in West Africa, or the pull of a life surrounded by old friends, the comfort of an old flame, family obligations, and the home she’s always known. But she is not the only one wrestling with uncertainty. Since their college days, each of her friends has faced unexpected challenges that make them reevaluate the lives they’d always planned for themselves.

A mesmerizing debut from an exciting young writer, Migratory Animals is a moving, thought-provoking novel, told from shifting viewpoints, about the meaning of home and what we owe each other—and ourselves.


My Rating:

5 hearts


Favorite Quotes:

“Kunle was untainted by the loss and heartbreak Flannery’s family dragged behind it like a lizard’s tail.”

“His father was a Mexican who didn’t much like Mexicans, and it was only later than Santi became to wonder what that might do to a person’s psyche.”

“Over time, Molly would discover there were all sorts of baggage and sharp edges to these people who eventually became her closest circle.  But in that moment, looking at them from the outside, all she could see were lives that existed inside an upturned snow globe.  Glittering in the light.”

“How long had Santiago been hounded by the slippage between what he was and what he needed to be to make Flannery happy?”

“The three women wore flowery sundresses and various incarnations of what she and Molly used to call ‘Savior sandals.’  Like Lou, the three women were unshaven, bursts of black hair beneath their armpits like grass growing from the crack of a rock.  It made Flan fell suburban and overly groomed.”


My Review:

Migratory Animals is a smartly written book, densely populated with meaty sentences and thoughtful words.  It made me remember and it made me think.  It was exquisite.  It is something to savor, and I admit – I read it slowly and savored it.  More than a few times, I had to stop and reread passages, as I was totally in awe of how the thoughts and feelings had been so aptly expressed.  This is not merely a story, it is literary art.   An eclectic and intelligent group of people with actually very little in common, meet, become friends, and bond while living in the same college housing.  Throughout the subsequent years, they are in and out of each other’s lives – feeling, sharing, and bringing pain and support as they age and occasionally stop to contemplate their pasts and present lives.  I saw myself repeatedly in this missive, and felt as if I had been sucker punched more than a few times.  At times the story grew heavy, at other times, nostalgic.  I experienced a full range of emotion as I read, from playful to melancholy – I smiled, I grimaced, and I stewed, but I loved every bit of it and wanted more.

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About the Author:



Born and raised in Abilene, Texas, Mary Helen Specht has a B.A. in English from Rice University and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Emerson College, where she won the department’s fiction award. Her writing has been nominated for multiple Pushcart Prizes and has appeared in numerous publications, including: The New York Times; The Colorado Review; Prairie Schooner; Michigan Quarterly Review; The Southwest Review; Florida Review; Southwestern American Literature; World Literature Today; Blue Mesa; Hunger Mountain; Bookslut; The Texas Observer; and Night Train, where she won the Richard Yates Short Story Award.

A past Fulbright Scholar to Nigeria and Dobie-Paisano Writing Fellow, Specht teaches creative writing at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas.

Her first novel, Migratory Animals, was published by Harper Perennial on January 20, 2015.

Author Mary Helen Specht has a website, and she’s also on Twitter.


One comment on “Book Review: Migratory Animals by Mary Helen Specht

  1. Reply trish Feb 14,2015 1:47 am

    Wow! Sounds like a fabulous book! I’m glad you enjoyed it so much. Thank you for being on the tour!

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