After a bunch of depressing books in a row, this is the first book that I would like to shout to the rooftops and tell everyone to read it, because it is absolutely beautiful. The beginning is a little disjointed – and the few “current era” interruptions of Woody by his nursing home orderlies are a little jarring at first, until you figure out what’s going on – but once the book really gets under way and Woody starts his trek across the United States, everything is much easier to follow.
Woody Nickel (who is very aware of the awful name his parents gave him) is a Dust Bowl orphan with a secret, and while we do eventually find out that secret, the foreshadowing and the lead-up to it is spectacular. At the beginning, he makes it clear that he looks out for himself and himself only, and feels weak for caring for the giraffes and wanting to follow them out, and his character arc through the entire story is a beautiful one.
I found myself highlighting a lot in this Kindle book, which is something I don’t do often. I keep the “most popular highlights” option on (for some reason), but most of the time I can’t find myself caring about the quote that so many other people seem to care about. I found more non-popular quotes in this book than I did popular ones to highlight, and all of them make my heart sing. I don’t know if you’ve ever read Out of the Dust (it was one of my favorite books to read at my grandma’s when I was in middle school, for some reason), but I felt like this was the continuation of that story, if the main character had been a boy and managed to escape. Woody’s past is twisted and a little dark at times, but he comes out of it stronger than he should have, all thanks to the giraffes.
It’s a shame, then, that the ending of the story does him so dirty. Rutledge set him up for something great, something better than he could ever have imagined out in “Californy,” and the ending is an absolute heart-breaker. I’m trying to be vague, because I still want y’all to read this book, but I do want you to be warned that the ending isn’t going to be as satisfying as you want it to be. I guess I had gotten used to happy endings again and thought that there would be no way that a happy story about a cross-country giraffe road trip would go and rip my heart out, but here we are.
Rutledge has a section at the end for defining some specific terms – like Hooverville – to help give the audience a little more context on what’s going on in the book, but I found that I didn’t need it. I must have read too many other books dealing with the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. She also reminds us that we are the last chance of hope for so many animals in the world, especially our friends the giraffes, who are headed for the great “Sixth Extinction,” which is exactly as bad as you think it would have been.
I think this book would have gotten a perfect score had it not been for the ending (and for Woody’s creepy obsession with Augusta/Red), but I do believe it deserves a 4.5/5 star rating. It is just that good. It’s a book that I’d like to give a copy of to everyone, because it’s just a story of a boy trying to find his place in this world after losing literally everything he owns, and how animals sometimes mean more to us than we think.
Did you know the story of the giraffes before picking up this book? Let me know in the comments!
And as always, keep reading.