by April Davila
Publication: Kensington Books; February 25, 2020
For lovers of stark beauty, 142 OSTRICHES, the debut novel by Pushcart Prize-nominated author April Dávila, explores the muddled love of a desert ranch family long mired in disconnect, addiction, and denial. At its center is Tallulah Jones, a young woman desperate to escape life on the Mojave Desert ostrich farm where her grandmother raised her. But when her grandmother dies under questionable circumstances, Tallulah finds herself as the sole heir to the ranch – just as the birds mysteriously stop laying eggs during the peak laying season. ..
Guarding the secret of the suddenly barren birds, Tallulah endeavors to force through a sale of the ranch, a task that is complicated by the arrival of her extended family. Their designs on the property, and deeply rooted dysfunction, threaten Tallulah’s ambitions and eventually her life. With no options left, Tallulah must pull her head out of the sand and face the fifty-year legacy of a family in turmoil: the reality of her grandmother’s death, her mother’s alcoholism, her uncle’s covetous anger, and the 142 ostriches whose lives are in her hands.
I am not sure where to begin with this review, but oh my goodness, what a gem! This debut novel from author April Davila is a beautifully written novel about a young woman Tallulah who has been living with her grandmother on her ostrich farm for the past 11 years. After being raised (or lack thereof) by a gypsy irresponsible mother, Tallulah’s grandmother Helen, whom she had never met, came to their apartment in Oakland and took Tallulah back to live with her and learn how to help out on the farm. Just as Tallulah is gearing up to leave it all behind and take a new job in Montana, her grandmother dies leaving Tallulah the farm, the house, and of course, all 142 ostriches. This is where the train makes a stop in dysfunction junction as a variety of family members come out of the woodwork for either the funeral or just the opportunity to share their opinions about Tallulah selling the farm. To make matters worse, Tallulah has found herself at a crossroads regarding her relationship with her boyfriend Devon and just as she is trying to sell the farm, all of the ostriches stop laying eggs.
Tallulah had a wonderfully colorful variety in her family. There was her always pregnant, super religious Aunt Christine who is 8 months pregnant with her sixth child. There was her sometimes clean, but mostly not drug-addicted Uncle Scott. Then there was her mother Laura, always with a glass of whiskey in her hand that suddenly reappeared in Tallulah’s life after eleven years. For anyone familiar with craziness within your family – read this and I assure you that you will feel better about your situation. These people were exhausting! Actually, her Aunt Christine and all of her tons of nieces were o.k., but there was constant drama surrounding this family the entire time. Paired with running the ostrich farm, I felt tired for Tallulah the entire time.
Speaking of ostriches – the best part of this novel – who knew running an ostrich farm was such backbreaking and dangerous work. Who knew how moody ostriches are? Also, who knew what creatures of habit they are and how meticulous they are about everything being on its normal routine? I am in love with these birds after reading this. I will never look at an ostrich the same after reading this and watching the author bring these animals to life.
142 Ostriches contains some of the most beautiful and well-written words that I have read in quite some time. I was initially attracted by the cover and then I found the description unique, unlike anything I normally read. I cannot convey how happy I am that I decided to give this one a try. The imagery was remarkable and something I think most authors could spend their entire lives trying to achieve. Every single event and conversation held some sort of purpose and was never boring or repetitive. This novel evokes an enormous range of emotions so prepare yourself for laughter, anger, awe, and tears. Most importantly, it’s just an amazing book that you need to read for yourself. Although I devoured this in e-book format, this is one that I absolutely plan to purchase in paperback so I can enjoy it and share it with others again and again. It’s hard to believe that this is Davila’s debut and I have no idea how she could ever surpass this one, but I will definitely keep an eye out for more from her in the future.
*Many thanks to Kensington Books and NetGalley for providing this review copy in exchange for my honest opinion!
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