Hi everyone! I hope you’re having a relaxing weekend! I seem to have come down with a bit of a sore throat but I’ve been powering through the books I’ve been reading nonetheless! Today I’m back with another book review as part of TBR & Beyond Tours‘ tour for Primal Animals by Julia Lynn Rubin – a gory, gruesome sapphic horror! As always, click on the banner below to check out the other amazing posts for the tour and keep on reading if you want to hear my thoughts on the book!
Title: Primal Animals
Author: Julia Lynn Rubin
Genre: Horror, LGBT+, Young Adult
Synopsis: Protect the girls
Arlee Gold is anxious about spending the summer at the college prep Camp Rockaway—the same camp her mother attended years ago, which her mother insists will help give Arlee a “fresh start” and will “change her life.” Little does Arlee know that, once she steps foot on the manicured grounds, this will prove to be true in horrifying ways.
Even though the girls in her cabin are awesome—and she’s developing a major crush on the girl who sleeps in the bunk above her—the other campers seem to be wary of Arlee, unwilling to talk to her or be near her, which only ramps up her paranoia. When she’s tapped to join a strange secret society, Arlee thinks this will be her shot at fitting in…until her new “sisters” ask her to do the unthinkable, putting her life, and the life of her new crush, in perilous danger.
Content Warning: Blood, gore, mentions of Sexual harassment/assault
This is my first time reading a book by Julia Lynn Rubin and the fact that I could not bear to put this book down until I had finished it in the span of a day means that it will definitely not be my last! Primal Animals follows Arlee Gold who is getting shipped off for the summer to a prestigious college-prep summer camp that her mother won’t stop raving about. But when she gets there, her mother is somewhat infamous among the other campers. Though she gets on well with her bunkmates, and is definitely developing feelings for the girl in the bunk above her, several of the other campers are doing everything they can to avoid her. And when Arlee gets an invite to a creepy secret society, things start going from bad to worse.
There’s something about sapphic horror that just hits different and this was no exception. The isolated nature of a summer camp in the woods and the close knit groups of campers really made this a unique read for me, as someone who hasn’t ventured far into the horror genre – and of course, the perfect, grimy and gory book for this time of year. Arlee is terrified of bugs, especially flies, and their frequent appearance (among other creepy crawlies) adds to the cloying, uncomfortable nature of the book, and particularly reminded me of Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth. Furthermore, the cult-like, ritualistic goings on that Arlee finds herself embroiled in felt, to me, like a subversion of the rich boys-club nature of many upper class educational facilities (and, again, reminded me a bit of A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee), though did fall a bit flat on the feminist vibes that I was promised.
The characters, though, were what really made the story work for me. I love tight-knit groups that do everything together in books, whether that be in boarding schools or, in this case, summer camps – and the girls here were so, so great! Not only are there several sapphic characters, but as soon as Arlee walks into her cabin on her first day there, she is greeted by a giant trans pride flag on the wall! So many authors would have made the decision to have a trans femme character struggle with her gender while being stuck in the boys’ cabins, and I’m so, so glad that Julia Lynn Rubin decided not to go in that direction. Because it’s a tired trope that is so often in books to act as representation but is never done so in a sensitive way, and it’s about time that trans characters get happier stories where their gender is respected and they are loved! And Ginger, the trans character in question, is loved by her friends and the whole friend group in general was so sweet!
That being said, I did have a few issues with the book. First and foremost, the ending. I can’t say too much about it without giving spoilers, but the ambiguity of it, particularly in regards to one of the characters, could be taken as a bury your gays moment, which is….not great. I felt like it all wrapped up too quickly and I wasn’t given enough closure with regards to so many of the characters (but I would definitely take a sequel novella or anything to see how they’re all doing!). At times I also felt the gore to be a bit gratuitous and it didn’t really fit in well with the story (if you’ve read it – it’s related to an animal, I’m sure you’ll know what I’m on about!). And finally, when Arlee arrives at camp, some people are disappointed to find out that she’s taken the place of one of their friends – also one of the girls’ girlfriends – who never told them that she wouldn’t be at camp this year. I thought that this would really link into the rest of the plot but it was just kinda dropped, and it could’ve made for a really interesting plot thread.
That being said, this was a book that really lured me in in the first half to leave me feeling squeamish and gross by the time I was finished, so I think that Primal Animals really did what it set out to do, and is definitely one of the best sapphic horrors I’ve ever read! I’m already excited to re-read the finished copy at some point and, of course, check out Julia Lynn Rubin’s other book!
About the Author:
Julia Lynn Rubin lives the writer’s life in Brooklyn, where she finished an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults at The New School in 2017. For three years she served as a writing mentor for Girls Write Now, New York City’s premiere writing program for high school girls, and she continues to facilitate pre-K literacy programs throughout Brooklyn at libraries and family shelters.Julia has been writing books, poems, and stories since first grade, and loves reading about everything from film analysis (she’s a film nerd) to psychology and philosophy. Her short stories have appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Sierra Nevada Review, and The Lascaux Review, and she has written for a variety of online publications, including BuzzFeed, The Content Strategist, Fatherly, and Wetpaint Entertainment.
Julia is passionate about realism and diversity in teen literature. She hopes to one day own a French bulldog, pug, Boston terrier, or perhaps a mix of all three. She loves indie films, drag shows, and spending as much time as possible at the beach.