Andi Brown sent me a free paperback copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, and I will do my best to uphold my part of the deal. Brace yourselves.
Animal Cracker takes place primarily at the fictional Animal Protection Organization in Boston. Our heroine is Diane, a twenty-four-year-old just starting a job as the communications director of the APO. Her boss, Hal, is a cartoonish nightmare vision of a horrible boss – he’s patronizing, vaguely misogynistic, lazy, and stupid. The book follows Diane and her coworkers as they try to take down their terrible boss. Hijinks and attempts at humor follow, accompanied by unlicensed shelters and dying homeless animals. It’s a weird blend, to say the least.
Okay look, the whole thing isn’t terrible. At least, the idea behind it isn’t – a group of women working together to upset the patriarchy and save cute animals! That’s like, four things that I love all rolled together. Where Animal Cracker fails, spectacularly, is in the execution of just about every aspect.
Simply put, this needed an editor. A real editor, not just friends of the author who agreed to proofread the novel a few times before it was self-published. A real editor – or hell, someone who knows how to use Google – would have at least been able to catch the numerous and glaring errors littering the text. To name a few: it’s Stephen King, not Steven King; you drink margaritas, not margheritas; and no twenty-four-year-old alive today would ever dial Information when trying to locate a specific bar. (I’M twenty-four, and until I read this book I wasn’t aware that “telephone operator” was a job that still existed in the 21st century) But the biggest suspension-of-disbelief-ruiner happens towards the end of the book, when Diane is trailing Hal to figure out what he’s up to. To make sure she isn’t recognized, Diane disguises herself as a man and follows her boss. To the airport. And onto a plane.
Pop quiz, readers: what can you absolutely not do in post-9/11 America, ever? Get through airport security carrying the identification of a person who looks nothing like you, that’s what. I can’t even really remember what happened in the pages immediately after that part, because I was too busy trying to figure out how Diane, dressed as man, managed to pass security by showing a woman’s driver’s license. It threw me out of the story so hard I think I still have whiplash. (At the end of this book, Andi Brown thanks the numerous people who helped her prepare this manuscript, and my question is, how did none of them catch this?)
This story is fixable, I want to emphasize that. It needs to go through at least two more drafts, but it can be done. But it’s going to take more than a red editor’s pen, Ms. Brown – someone needs to take a hatchet to this book and cut out all the excess. And there’s a lot of excess to get rid of. Entire scenes can be removed (almost an entire page is wasted describing the time Diane goes to the movies by herself), and the character list could be sliced almost in half. There are two female reporters in this book that could easily be combined into one person, and the APO office staff needs to be downsized to three characters so the author can spend more time making them actual characters and not interchangeable cardboard cutouts. Diane, Katelyn, and Mary Day – that’s all we need (oh, and if Mary Day is really going to be portrayed as a clichéd Southern belle, make sure she doesn’t misuse the word “y’all” or say “fuck” twice in a workplace setting, because trust me, those are two things a Southern belle never, ever does) All romance aspects should be sent to the Graveyard of Unnecessary Subplots – Diane does not need to be dating her boss’s son, and she definitely doesn’t need to be consumed by grief over her last failed relationship, as both subplots add nothing to the story and only pissed me off.
But these minor issues pale in comparison to the greatest problem, and the reason I cannot in good conscience give this book more than one star: Diane is a complete asshole.
First there are the little nuggets of casual racism she drops throughout the book – at one point, her date is describing the Japanese-to-English instructions on a hairdryer, and Diane goes, “I’m picturing a Japanese guy in a cubicle…he’s got his sake in one hand and a dictionary in another.” Ha ha, it’s funny because Japanese people drink sake and aren’t born speaking English! You’re so funny, Diane! Then there’s the way she confides to the reader that she considers herself to be just like Bridget Jones, “minus the poundage and the alcoholism.” But the worst, the absolute worst, is the way she treats her office “friend” Katelyn. Katelyn is poor, you see, and has a son with behavioral problems, and also has an abusive ex, because this is a fucking Lifetime movie. Diane cannot spend longer than five minutes with Katelyn before she starts mentally thanking God that she doesn’t have Katelyn’s life, and condescension seeps from every pore whenever she interacts with her token Down on Her Luck Friend. I kept waiting for Katelyn to smack the snobby bitch upside the head, but sadly this never happens. The best way I can sum up Diane’s hideous personality is by quoting the following passage: “We went upstairs and I plopped into one of her shabby armchairs. Katelyn went into her kitchen and emerged, not with tea, but a bottle of wine that looked cheap, which she poured into a couple of chipped coffee mugs.”
Right, because if anyone is going to have high standards for wine, it’s a twenty-four-year-old struggling to pay her student loan bills. Again – Diane and I are the same age, and I (like everyone in my age group) have never paid more than eleven dollars for a bottle of wine in my life. Even if I went over to a friend’s house and she offered me a glass of Two Buck Chuck I wouldn’t think a goddamn thing about it, because I’m twenty-four and also I’m not a bitch.
This book could have been a fluffy, fun, hijinks-filled romp about a group of women taking down their horrible boss and saving some cute animals at the same time. Instead, it reads like the first draft of a failed multi-cam sitcom. A few more rounds of revision could have saved Animal Cracker, but instead we’re left with this hot mess instead: a weird hybrid of Nine to Five and The Devil Wears Prada (not the hybrid of The Office and Bridget Jones’ Diary, as the jacket description insists) that completely misses what made those stories enjoyable in the first place.
Verdict: one out of five stars