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Novels About Trying to Do Good: Background information when reading Dinosaurs

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Dinosaurs

A Novel

by Lydia Millet

Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet X
Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2022, 240 pages

    Paperback:
    Aug 2023, 256 pages

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About this Book

Novels About Trying to Do Good

This article relates to Dinosaurs

Print Review

Covers of novels about trying to do good: The Wrong End of the Telescope, The Silence That Binds Us, Barn 8, Watch Us Rise In Lydia Millet's Dinosaurs, independently wealthy Gil grapples with the guilt brought on by his privilege and financial abundance. He tries to find ways to give back to those around him, through volunteer work and other means. A character's choice to actively attempt to do good deeds, or to change the world for the better, is one rich with narrative possibilities. It raises questions about what it means to be in a position to improve the lives of others, who gets to decide what is best for who else, and what type of work is most important or substantial. Below are a few other novels in which the motivations and morality of those trying to do good are explored. You can find more related novels in our Activism and Volunteering category.

The Wrong End of the Telescope by Rabih Alameddine centers on Syrian refugees arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos during the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016. Alameddine uses generous, imaginative humor to navigate the sticky subject of what it means for people to use charity work as a form of self-improvement. Mina, a doctor, comes to the island with the express intention of helping refugees and with the less obvious intention of helping herself at a time in her life when she feels stalled and unfulfilled. While there, she becomes aware of the presence of a friend of hers, a certain writer who bears an uncanny resemblance to Alameddine himself. Through short chapters written in a vignette-like style, the novel expands to encompass the stories of this metafictional duo, their friends and loved ones, other volunteers and the refugees themselves.

In Joanna Ho's young adult novel The Silence That Binds Us, Chinese Taiwanese American teenager May becomes interested in racial justice activism following events resulting from the suicide of her brother, Danny. An influential figure blames Danny's death on the Asian parents in the community, and May endeavors to fight this racist accusation through various forms of action. In doing so, she becomes aware of a long history of racial justice work in the United States and a sense of her responsibility to others.

Barn 8 by Deb Olin Unferth is a delightful and hilarious activism-based caper that follows a group of animal lovers who attempt to free a million chickens from captivity. While Unferth's novel raises serious questions about the ethics of raising animals for food and also focuses quite a bit on the uncomfortable realities of factory farming, it also confronts the difficulties of remaining true to a cause and doing the right thing within a morally fraught system. Additionally, it treats the chickens themselves not just as victims of human design, but as their own characters worthy of deep consideration.

Like The Silence That Binds Us, Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagen is a young adult offering that features teenagers working together to address important issues in which they have a personal stake. Best friends Jasmine and Chelsea, dissatisfied with the lack of feminist resources at their high school, take action by starting their own club to support women's creativity and experiences. Also like Ho's novel, Watson and Hagen's work acknowledges the complex inequalities that may exist even in progressive spaces.

by Elisabeth Cook

Filed under Reading Lists

This "beyond the book article" relates to Dinosaurs. It originally ran in October 2022 and has been updated for the August 2023 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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