Unlikely Animals: A Novel (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

An uplifting and hopeful novel about trying to do the best for the people you love, even if you've messed up in the past. I wanted to keep hanging out with the folks at the Maple Street Cemetery and hear more tales from the town!

— Nikki


A lost young woman returns to small-town New Hampshire under the strangest of circumstances in this one-of-a-kind novel of life, death, and whatever comes after from the acclaimed author of Rabbit Cake.

“A wondrous and wonderful story filled with unforgettable characters, both living and dead . . . an instant classic.”—Jeff VanderMeer, New York Times bestselling author of the Southern Reach trilogy


It was a source of entertainment at Maple Street Cemetery. Both funny and sad, the kind of story we like best. 

Natural-born healer Emma Starling once had big plans for her life, but she’s lost her way. A medical school dropout, she’s come back to small-town Everton, New Hampshire, to care for her father, who is dying from a mysterious brain disease. Clive Starling has been hallucinating small animals, as well as having visions of the ghost of a long-dead naturalist, Ernest Harold Baynes, once known for letting wild animals live in his house. This ghost has been giving Clive some ideas on how to spend his final days.

Emma arrives home knowing she must face her dad’s illness, her mom’s judgment, and her younger brother’s recent stint in rehab, but she’s unprepared to find that her former best friend from high school is missing, with no one bothering to look for her. The police say they don’t spend much time looking for drug addicts. Emma’s dad is the only one convinced the young woman might still be alive, and Emma is hopeful he could be right. Someone should look for her, at least. Emma isn’t really trying to be a hero, but somehow she and her father bring about just the kind of miracle the town needs.

Set against the backdrop of a small town in the throes of a very real opioid crisis, Unlikely Animals is a tragicomic novel about familial expectations, imperfect friendships, and the possibility of resurrecting that which had been thought irrevocably lost.

About the Author

Annie Hartnett is the author of Rabbit Cake, which was listed as one of Kirkus Reviews’s Best Books of 2017 and a finalist for the New England Book Award. She has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and the Associates of the Boston Public Library. She studied philosophy at Hamilton College, has an MA from Middlebury College, and an MFA from the University of Alabama. When she began writing Unlikely Animals, she was living in the groundskeeper’s house in a cemetery. She now lives in a small town in Massachusetts with her husband, daughter, and darling border collie, Mr. Willie Nelson.

Praise For…

Unlikely Animals is a testament to the wild talent of Annie Hartnett. This novel possesses such tenderness and empathy for a world that wears us down and ruins us, a world that sometimes offers a glimmer of hope, and Hartnett knows how to turn up the brilliance of that light and wield it to do magical things.”—Kevin Wilson, New York Times bestselling author of Nothing to See Here and The Family Fang

“I devoured Annie Hartnett’s Unlikely Animals. She’s created a beautiful menagerie set inside a troubled household and their small New Hampshire town; a delightful mess of tenderness, grief, and despair, but most important, hope. This book is a winner.”—Kristen Arnett, New York Times bestselling author of Mostly Dead Things and With Teeth

“A riotous, joyful, hilarious romp with the wild and the tamed, the living and the dead, Unlikely Animals is both a love letter to John Irving and a literary accomplishment in its own right. Annie Hartnett is the real deal, and Unlikely Animals is a triumph.”—Rufi Thorpe, author of The Knockout Queen, finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award

Unlikely Animals is a modern fairy tale that beguiles and breaks the heart. Annie Hartnett walks a tightrope of comedy and tragedy in tender, sparkling prose cut with wit. This is a large-hearted story populated by an original and amiable cast of characters—human, animal, spirit—about living, dying, and all the messiness in between.”—Rachel Khong, author of Goodbye, Vitamin

“No one is better at heart than Annie Hartnett—in the best, most layered, most complicated, and deeply human sense—and still Unlikely Animals stunned me. In a book rich with miracles, it’s this complexity and expansiveness of connection that feels most miraculous of all.”—Clare Beams, author of The Illness Lesson

Unlikely Animals is a wonderful love song to a place and the people who live there, past and present. It is a warm, joyful, generous novel about families and human frailty—an homage to the dead and a celebration of the living.”—Lydia Kiesling, author of The Golden State

“I love Annie Hartnett’s mind. I can never predict the paths it takes me on. Unlikely Animals is fun, touching, fascinating, and delightful. I didn’t want it to end.”—Jane Alexander, actress and author of Wild Things, Wild Places

Product Details
ISBN: 9780593160220
ISBN-10: 0593160223
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: April 12th, 2022
Pages: 368
Language: English