Usually, when I read a novel with a horse-related theme (except for Dick Francis, of course!), the glaring inaccuracies make the book almost unreadable. The God of Animals is an exception, and author Aryn Kyle makes only a few subtle mistakes in the horse details.
A page-turning coming of age story, The God of Animals follows a young teenage daughter of a local horse breeder and trainer as she tries to find her place amid a difficult home life. The family boarding barn provides the backdrop for a Judy Blume-like angst-ridden story full of surprises, some of them pleasant, some of them not. To my distinct relief, unlike Blume's characters, Kyle's teenage protagonist manages to avoid any serious make-the-reader-cringe embarrassment. All of the characters are flawed in some way, yet none of them can be categorized as "bad people." Mostly, they are people just trying to get by, in the only ways they know how.
In many novels, horses are a character development tool, but here the author also uses horses to highlight shortcomings. Refreshingly, not every character is improved by his or her relationship with horses - sometimes, the horses demonstrate that the people haven't really changed at all. Just like a real horse show, this novel's horse shows also have ups and downs, and sometimes the cheaters and creeps win. One character's hard work and big expenditures only partially overcome her lack of talent, and another character's natural ability is almost obscured by her lack of desire.
The bleak tone and gritty Western setting reminded me of one of my favorite authors, Annie Proulx (who also wrote the short story Brokeback Mountain). Overall, it's a satifying read and a very impressive first novel for Aryn Kyle.