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Literature / When We Were Animals

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First edition cover, 2015

Lumen Ann Fowler has led two lives. Growing up in the town of Poliwakanda, more affectionately known as Pale Miranda, she was little Lumen Fowler: doting daughter, brilliant student; well-mannered and soft-spoken, Lumen kept to herself and stayed out of trouble. Now, as Ann Borden, she is a demure housewife, a loving mother, and though she smiles and attends PTA meetings as expected, beneath that smile is a Dark Secret and a Mysterious Past she has locked away.

You see, the residents of Pale Miranda are a bit different from the rest of the world. When a teenager hits puberty, they begin to breach during the full moon—reverting to savage beasts with ravenous appetites for destruction, unmitigated lust, and an unbridled primal instinct, for one full year. The town allows the teens to run wild, but little Lumen, whose mother never breached, fights it. Desperately hoping to keep her promise to her father, Marcus, she watches as her best friend Polly begins to breach, followed by her childhood crush Peter Meechum, rival Rosebush Lincoln, and the ever-mysterious Blackhat Roy Ruggle, believing herself to be above such animalistic brutality. Until she is thrust into the pull of the moonlight and finally breaches for the first time, and she loses control of the life she had once meticulously strove to keep.

Written by Joshua Gaylord, When We Were Animals is a Coming of Age Story with a dash of Gothic Horror released in 2015, nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel.

When We Were Animals provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Adults Are Useless: Marcus Fowler is a doting father, but has no idea how to deal with his pubescent daughter or her issues. On a greater scope, the adults of Pale Miranda seem to have no control over the damage done by the breaches, nor do they seem inclined to care or investigate the cause behind them. They just let the kids run wild and terrorize everyone, opting instead to lock the doors, shut the blinds, and keep everyone inside the house that isn't a teenager breaching once night falls and the full moon rises.
  • Aerith and Bob: You have names like Marcus, Polly and Roy next to names like Lumen, Rosebush, and Hondy.
    • Also, Roy Ruggle is exclusively referred to in the novel as Blackhat Roy.
    • The last names are guilty of this as well. You have surnames like Fowler, Hunter, and Lincoln...and then Steptoe, Ruggle and Pilt.
  • The Alcoholic: Mr. Hunter.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Blackhat Roy to Lumen. It's hinted that he doesn't quite understand his feelings for Lumen and struggles with them, in addition to his own insecurities and inadequacies, whereas Lumen shows no deeply romantic feelings toward Blackhat Roy. This, in part, leads to his suicide.
    • Mr. Hunter to Lumen's mother, Felicia.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Hondy Pilt, though most of the descriptions of him seem to point toward Down syndrome.
    • Lumen as well. She has no concept of boundaries, seems to be disconnected from reality as well as herself, and tends to exhibit behaviors of Depersonalization disorder or some other personality disorder. Jack seems to be aware that his wife isn't quite normal, and tells her that she has to get better once she is arrested for breaking and entering.
    • Blackhat Roy fits the trope too. It's alluded that due to his upbringing as a Lower-Class Lout, he was abused and neglected quite often, and the interactions we see him having with other characters are almost reminiscent of a bully with Borderline Personality disorder.
  • Asshole Victim: It's hard to feel sympathy for Rosebush when she gets the bones in her arm shattered by a metal bat.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted. Lumen gets a deep gash in her face at one point, resulting in stitches. Also, most of the girls who breach walk away from the night covered in bruises with chunks of hair ripped out of their scalps.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Blackhat Roy and Lumen.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Rosebush Lincoln. Polly has her moments after she breaches.
  • Broken Bird: Lumen and Blackhat Roy.
  • Call-Back: One of Lumen's favorite bedtime stories as a child is the relationship and wedding day of her mother and father to the point to where she has it memorized and recites every detail back to her father, right down to the orchid colored gloves she wore at their wedding. The last time she speaks to the girl's corpse in the mine, it's once she realizes that it's the body of her long-dead mother, and asks if she had worn orchid colored gloves at her wedding.
  • Character Development: The only person aside from Lumen to truly receive any is Blackhat Roy. When he's first introduced, he's the town's Jerkass Delinquent, but as the story progresses he shows himself to be a bit of a Broken Bird with an Ambiguous Disorder that genuinely, in his way, loves Lumen. He's pretty much the only character aside from Lumen herself that is not a Satellite Character.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Lumen's absence of a period, the "coal hole"—a small storage area in the house behind a hidden panel, where Lumen liked to hide as a child—and Lumen's books.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The body of the dead girl in the mine shaft.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Lumen. Some chapters are just strange, unbridled ramblings about the meaning of her name. Also, she breaks into her husband's coworker's house at one point.
  • Control Freak: Marcie Klapper-Witt has shades of this.
  • Creepy Child: Lumen's son. He's ill-tempered and tends to bite children. While Jack, her husband, considers it an issue, Lumen doesn't seem to mind.
    • Lumen herself. Really, all the kids of Pale Miranda.
  • Daddy's Girl: Lumen, full stop, to the point to where she hides going breach from him because she had promised she never would as a little girl.
  • Delinquents: All the teens have shades of this when they go breach, but Blackhat Roy is the character designated to this role.
    "Now it's time to talk about Blackhat Roy Ruggle, who was no good."
  • Disappeared Dad: Blackhat Roy's father.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Lumen breaking Rosebush Lincoln's arm with a metal bat during PE class after getting fed up with her catty behavior.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The teenagers that go breach are primal beasts ravaging a town during each full moon.
  • Driven to Suicide: Blackhat Roy Ruggle, after cutting open Lumen's face while having sex with her when they weren't breaching, struggling with his feelings for Lumen, not being able to come to terms with his own issues, and accidentally burning her house down (unwittingly killing her father in the fire), jumps to his death. He begs Lumen to help him, and she closes her eyes and lets him jump after saying she didn't know how.
  • Due to the Dead: When Lumen first discovers the corpse in the mine shaft, she begins speaking to it and stroking its hair. When she discovers it's the body of her mother she flees the school dance to go to the mine shaft and pay her respects properly, introducing herself as her daughter. Also, the name of Lumen's son.
  • Dying Declaration of Hate: Played with rather poignantly. Before leaping to his death at the quarry, Blackhat Roy admits to Lumen that he hated her for what he had done to her and how he had made her feel, making it an anguished Dying Declaration of Love.
    “At the beginning...I wanted to break you. I really did. But I couldn’t. Then, later, I didn’t want to break you anymore. I wanted…the opposite. But something about me—my hands don’t work that way. And I broke you instead. It was an accident...I hated you for such a long time. At least that I was good at. Hate’s simple. It makes sense. You know it, too.”
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Lumen Ann Fowler.
  • Evil Is Petty: Rosebush. Early in the novel, prior to the breaches, she forces a child with Down syndrome to go into a dangerous abandoned mine shaft for her own amusement resulting in him becoming injured. Also, once she sleeps with Peter Meechum during a breach, she makes it a point to brag to Lumen, his girlfriend.
  • Growing Up Sucks
  • High-School Dance: The climax of the novel occurs on prom night.
  • Hormone-Addled Teenagers: Played with. Instead of being a typical example of this trope, once the teens begin puberty they revert to a primal nature and run the streets, stark naked, destroying everything and generally acting like animals, every night of the full moon for one year.
  • House Fire: The Fowler house burns down on prom night. It's not explicitly admitted, but Blackhat Roy more or less tells Lumen he started the fire by accident. Unbeknownst to Blackhat Roy, whose guilt over the fire is what ultimately drives him to commit suicide, Marcus Fowler was trapped in the coal hole and killed in the blaze while searching for Lumen, whom he'd thought had come home.
  • Innocence Lost: Lumen starting her period for the first time after having violent sex with Blackhat Roy serves as a metaphor for this.
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence: The sex that the teens of Pale Miranda engage in during breach nights is said to be this, essentially. Also, when Lumen confronts Blackhat Roy at his home, demanding he hurt her, before the two have incredibly violent sex resulting in Blackhat Roy seriously injuring Lumen.
  • It's All My Fault: How Lumen feels about her father's death on prom night.
  • It's Not You, It's Me: Essentially how Lumen dumps Peter Meechum.
  • Jerkass: Rosebush Lincoln.
  • Like a God to Me: Mr. Hunter explains that because her mother never went breach but willingly joined those who did, even while pregnant with Lumen, once the secret was out that she had been pretending the whole time all of the breachers viewed her as this, including Mr. Hunter himself.
  • Lower-Class Lout: Blackhat Roy is stressed to be this.
  • The Masochism Tango: When Lumen and Blackhat Roy have sex for the first (and only) time, culminating in the two attacking each other violently and Blackhat Roy cutting her face open badly enough to where she needed stitches. Ultimately subverted, in that Blackhat Roy realizes the severity of what had happened, tends to stay away from Lumen afterward, and feels insurmountable guilt over it.
  • Missing Mom: You find out relatively early on that Lumen's mother died when she was young, and she was raised by her father. Subverted when she finds her mother's long dead, decomposed body.
  • No Periods, Period: A big concern of teenage Lumen's is the fact that she is, for all intents and purposes, amenorrheicnote , and is a key plot point to Lumen's character development.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Blackhat Roy Ruggle. Very rarely will he ever be referred to as anything other than Blackhat Roy, and if he's being called "Roy", it's Played for Drama.
  • Psychotic Love Triangle: Peter Meechum, Lumen, and Blackhat Roy.
    • Also Peter Meechum, Lumen, and Rosebush Lincoln.
  • Purple Prose: THE WHOLE BOOK is written in this way, due to Lumen's Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness.
  • Real Name as an Alias: When Lumen leaves Pale Miranda, she decides to go by her middle name, Ann.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Blackhat Roy is the red to Lumen's blue.
  • Replacement Goldfish: When her father begins dating Margot Simons, Lumen sees her as an attempt at this.
  • The Reveal: When Lumen finds out through Mr. Hunter that the dead girl in the mine shaft at the quarry is the corpse of her mother.
  • Satellite Character: Most of the characters outside Lumen's immediate family and love interests. Special mention goes to Polly, who is introduced as her childhood best friend, but falls to the wayside once she begins to breach and Lumen does not.
  • Satellite Love Interest: Pete Meechum.
    • Also her husband, Jack.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Averted. Lumen becomes an orphan toward the end of the book, but it is not through their own design.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: How Lumen talks, with just a dash of Cloudcuckoolander thrown in for good measure.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Blackhat Roy.
  • Talking to the Dead: Lumen and the girl's body in the mine shaft.
  • Time Skip: The story wavers between flashbacks to Lumen's childhood and teen years, and present-day housewife Lumen.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: No one really understands why the teenagers of Poliwakanda ("Pale Miranda") go breach on the nights of the full moon, but the townsfolk do their damndest to make sure no one ever finds out about it.
  • Unwanted False Faith: Ultimately why Lumen breaks up with Peter Meechum.
  • Wham Line: "It was that mine."
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Poliwakanda. Its location is never given, and it seems to be a generic backwater town somewhere in the US.
  • Yandere: Blackhat Roy has shades of this.