What Do You Call Non-Southern “Grit Lit”? The Animals by Christian Kiefer

The Animals, Christian KieferFiction
Released March 23, 2015
315 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased


This majestic debut “Grit Lit” (but, not Southern) thriller combines suspense, a heartfelt story of redemption, and the bond between humans and animals.

Plot Summary

Bill Reed is living a quiet life caring for injured animals at a wildlife rescue center in rural Idaho when his criminal past comes back to haunt him.

Why I Read It

Shannon at River City Reading included The Animals on her list of Top Ten Books of 2015 (So Far) and Julianne at Outlandish Lit loved it as well. Plus, the whole “Grit Lit”-type literary thriller thing generally works for me.

Major Themes

Human/animal relationships, redemption, having a sense of purpose, moving on from the past, animals in captivity

What I Liked

  • This book feels like “grit lit” (see Rory’s great discussion of this term), but it’s not Southern. What to call it?! The Animals had me scouring the Internet for a term for this!
  • I expected to be immediately swept away by the suspense surrounding Bill’s criminal past. What did he do and how does it come back to haunt him? Instead, I was surprised to find myself swept away by Bill’s relationships with the animals in his rescue (including a blind grizzly bear and a three-legged wolf). They are his friends and family and saviors. Kiefer’s writing about the animals is beautiful and heartfelt and had me emotionally invested in their fates. 

[…] there was judgment in those pale, sightless eyes without expression, the bear’s gaze only holding within them the same acceptance that Bill had always seen there, as if nothing would be asked of him ever, as if the only thing Bill could ever do wrong was not return.

  • The Animals was a bit of a slow build for me, but not in a bad way. I was just reading along while Kiefer was busy creating the beauty and majesty of the animals before gradually realizing “wow, I’m really getting into this”. This adept pacing got me a bit more into the story with every page I read.
  • The book touches on the moral dilemma of raising animals meant for the wild in captivity, even if they’re injured to the point where they likely wouldn’t survive long on their own. This got me thinking and provided a nice platform for one of Bill’s internal battles.

What I Didn’t Like

  • The writing had a tendency to get a little mumbo-jumboy. For example, this part of the first paragraph wasn’t my favorite:

The world in its bubble and you holding fast to its slick interior as if to the blood-pumped safety of a womb. You and the animals.

  • The ending dragged a bit for me. But, I don’t want to spoil things by saying anymore here!

A Defining Quote

His uncle taught him how to feed the grizzly and he remembered, still remembered, the feeling, perhaps for the first time in his life, that he was doing something important, that he was needed and wanted […]

Good for People Who Like…

Page turners, literary thrillers, suspense, dark stories, “Grit Lit”, animals

Other Books You May Like

Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich

Have you ever heard of a term for “Grit Lit” that’s not Southern? If not, do you have any great ideas?

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  1. Carmen wrote:

    I think it is “Grit Lit” just the same. I like the premise and your thoughts on it. I would love to read this one.

    Posted 10.15.15 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      That’s what I’m calling it for now! We an just make the “Grit” refer to the grittiness of the story and ignore the double entendre of grits the food!

      Posted 10.16.15 Reply
  2. Hm, a slow buildup and a slow ending. This may not be for me.

    Posted 10.15.15 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      The ending actually was really fast-paced, it just went on too long. I could have done with one or two less back and forths at the end…can’t say anymore without spoiling things!

      Posted 10.16.15 Reply
  3. I’ve always associated grit lit with Southern (much like Rory posted) and never really thought about it otherwise until now. I guess I’ve stereotyped the term, automatically assuming it to be redneck, violence, set in a country/mountainous setting, etc but also gritty as with bikers, gang, and the like. I’ve wondered about The Animals but never really thought about it being grit lit and more about his relationship with his animals, which is why I bypassed it. Maybe I should give it a closer look?

    Posted 10.15.15 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      I had thought about Grit Lit the same way you did…but this story itself is pretty gritty, which made it feel like Grit Lit. And, yes, his relationship with the animals is a big part of the story, but they serve as his path to redemption from his very gritty past, which is also a big part of the book.

      Posted 10.16.15 Reply
  4. Amanda wrote:

    Mothers Tell Your Daughters was described as Rural Noir and maybe this fits in that too? I mean my mind it doesn’t get much more rural than Idaho.

    I think this is going on my list for when I’m in the mood for dark.

    Posted 10.15.15 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      I love the term Rural Noir and have heard that in relation to Mothers Tell Your Daughters (which is on my “try before the end of the year” list!)…that could definitely apply to The Animals…it’s certainly rural and it’s certainly noir!

      Posted 10.16.15 Reply
  5. Judy wrote:

    I am liking books that build slowly lately. Also like the subgenre name Grit Lit. I wonder if any bookstores have that category! If you liked this you might like T C Boyle’s The Harder They Come.

    Posted 10.15.15 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      I’ll check out The Harder They Come! I’ve definitely heard the subgenera “Grit Lit” among bloggers and on book podcasts…not sure if any bookstores have it, but I’ll keep an eye out!

      Posted 10.16.15 Reply
  6. Christian Kiefer wrote:

    Thanks for reading, Sarah!

    Posted 10.15.15 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      You’re very welcome – I really enjoyed it! Thanks for visiting my blog!

      Posted 10.16.15 Reply
  7. Great post, Sarah! I remember this one being on your list but, for some reason, I thought you’d already published a post on it; I’m so glad you enjoyed this one. It was definitely on my radar after Shannon’s post, but now I’m interested. If I can ever see light at the end of the tunnel, I’ll have to give this one a try – ha! Thank you!

    Posted 10.15.15 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      You probably thought that b/c I read it forever ago and wrote about it in my Monday update post, but needed to find an open slot for the review! I know, the light at the end of the tunnel would be nice, right?!

      Posted 10.16.15 Reply
  8. Now I get it…grit as in strength of character not as in ‘grits’. Back to the coffee pot for me!

    Posted 10.15.15 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      Yes! Exactly! Amanda from Gun in Act One suggested Rural Noir as another term, which I like!

      Posted 10.16.15 Reply
  9. Hey Sarah:

    Can you email me a mailing address? I’ve got something new coming out in March and want to make sure you get a copy. Very different from The Animals but maybe you’ll dig it nonetheless.



    Posted 1.8.16 Reply

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