Sunday, August 7, 2022

Summer Reading 2022: West with Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge


This summer has flown by so fast my head is spinning. Now it's August, and I did finally manage to finish a book! I spent yesterday cleaning my house, which I haven't done in some time. That involved gathering all the piles of books I have sitting around and putting them all in one spot. Now instead of a lot of small piles, I have just one big pile by my living room bookcase. Cleaning felt good, and helped me reset a bit. It's been a very busy work summer, and I'm definitely feeling low energy. Finishing this book, which has been on my TBR list for a long time, also helped reset my mental "can do" attitude. 

I read this book now because I was invited to be on a podcast with a local library. They discuss books with librarians from area libraries each month, and I picked West with Giraffes. When I say I enjoyed this book so so much, I'm not understating it. I even decided to add it to our library collection as a book club kit because it is such a wonderful book, and must be shared. 

WWG takes place over a two week period in September, 1938. It also bounces to 2025, where the main character Woody Nickel (yes that's his name) is 105 years old and nearing the end of his life. Woody realizes he doesn't have much time left, and he still has a story to tell. It's a story he must tell, because he's the only one left to tell it, and he can't stand the thought of the story dying with him. So Woody starts writing in notebooks in his room at the care center; feverishly writing it all down. 

The story starts out with Woody surviving the Hurricane of 1938 that hit New Jersey and killed hundreds of people. Woody is there, and survives through sheer luck. He's traveled from Texas to work with the only remaining relative he has: a third cousin who doesn't survive the hurricane. Woody is seventeen, broke, and alone. And to his amazement, he sees two giraffes on a boat that have miracularly survived the hurricane. He finds out they are to travel across country to the San Diego Zoo, their new home. Woody wants to get to "Californy" to start over--after all, it's the land of milk and honey. 

Old man is tasked with hiring a driver to take the giraffes to California. Woody, through some sheer ingenuity and luck, gets to drive the truck. He's formed a connection with the two giraffes he calls Boy and Girl. And so the adventure begins, filled with bad men, good people, danger, and a whole lot of amazing moments. 

Woody, Old Man, and Red, the beautiful photographer who follows the truck across the U.S. capturing all the special moments of the journey, are three characters that grew on me so much so that it was painful to end the journey. Each has a back story that is slowly revealed as they connect over their love for the giraffes. 

I still find myself thinking about this novel and the characters days after I finished it. It was quite unlike anything I've read this year, and exactly what I needed to read this summer. I think it would make an excellent movie on any of the streaming services. It's definitely a hidden gem that I will be sharing with everyone who asks me "what should I read next?"

Rating: 5/6 for a sneaky novel: it begins interestingly enough, but somehow grabs you by the heartstrings and doesn't let go. Characters reveal themselves and their hidden secrets and form unbreakable bonds. And the giraffes are just unforgettable. 

Available in hardcover, paperback, ebook and audio.