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Reviews of The Last Animal by Ramona Ausubel

The Last Animal

A Novel

by Ramona Ausubel

The Last Animal by Ramona Ausubel X
The Last Animal by Ramona Ausubel
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2023, 288 pages

    Paperback:
    Mar 2024, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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About this Book

Book Summary

A playful, witty, and resonant novel in which a single mother and her two teen daughters engage in a wild scientific experiment and discover themselves in the process, from the award-winning writer of Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty

Teenage sisters Eve and Vera never imagined their summer vacation would be spent in the Arctic, tagging along on their mother's scientific expedition. But there's a lot about their lives lately that hasn't been going as planned, and truth be told, their single mother might not be so happy either.

Now in Siberia with a bunch of serious biologists, Eve and Vera are just bored enough to cause trouble. Fooling around in the permafrost, they accidentally discover a perfectly preserved, four-thousand-year-old baby mammoth, and things finally start to get interesting. The discovery sets off a surprising chain of events, leading mother and daughters to go rogue, pinging from the slopes of Siberia to the shores of Iceland to an exotic animal farm in Italy, and resulting in the birth of a creature that could change the world—or at least this family.

The Last Animal takes readers on a wild, entertaining, and refreshingly different kind of journey, one that explores the possibilities and perils of the human imagination on a changing planet, what it's like to be a woman in a field dominated by men, and how a wondrous discovery can best be enjoyed with family. Even teenagers.

One

In the Age of Extinction, two tagalong daughters traveled to the edge of the world with their mother to search the frozen earth for the bones of woolly mammoths.

Eve was fifteen, reshaping herself more each day; Vera, just shy of thirteen, was a stubborn straight line. Jane, their mother, was a graduate student in paleobiology. Their father had died one year before, plunged into a shock-green mountain in a tiny car on a tiny road in Italy where he was doing research for an article. Now they were three. Girls, sad and angry and growing and trying. Mom, sad and angry and trying. Hauling their bodies across the scoop of sky to get to a bare place, a lost place where ancient beasts had once roamed. Somehow, they hoped, this trip would be the beginning of a new road. Gentler, ascending.

* * *

Jane's professor had grown a beard for the trip to Siberia, and Todd, a postdoc, wore all tan safari clothing. Everything had several pockets and zipped into different configurations. In New York...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. The Last Animal tells the story of Jane, a female scientist, and her two teenage daughters, Eve and Vera, who engage in a wild scientific experiment—and end up learning about themselves in the process. What preexisting tensions within the family are brought out by this experiment?
  2. Eve and Vera have very different personalities and roles in the family but are extremely close. At one point, Vera thinks, "As the first born, it was [Eve's] job to be the icebreaker ship, plowing through her mother's good intentions. Fifteen was old enough to brew stronger, higher-value anger. Vera's version, at thirteen, was only a mixer." How would you characterize each of them? How much of their personalities, outlooks, and behaviors did you see as ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

A winsome sister duo is at the heart of this unusual and timely story. But a problem with focusing on the teenagers is that Jane is not as well developed. She's portrayed as a grieving, weary, overworked, and overlooked middle-aged woman — at only 38! Trapped in mothering clichés, she never soars as a scientist in her own right. This may be the very (age-old) point Ausubel wishes to make about the difficulty of balancing motherhood and career, but I found it a little disappointing. Ironically, this fabulist-leaning novel is best when it is most realist, documenting struggles with bereavement, sexism and parenting teenagers. Set against the backdrop of overwhelming environmental loss, these everyday challenges are somehow all the more relatable...continued

Full Review Members Only (775 words)

(Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
An amazing amount of humor, pizazz, wisdom, and wonder packed into a story that is essentially about processing grief.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
The Ice Age meets the Anthropocene in this gem from Ausubel… Ausubel is at her best when exploring the ties that bind, especially in a family flung into unprecedented circumstances. In charting the parallel worlds of grief, scientific devotion, and adolescence, Ausubel comes up with a seamless global caper that brims with compassion and makes the reader glad to be alive.

Booklist
[A] transfixing, fabulist tale centering the life-giving power of women within a scientific frame… a feminist Jurassic Park. The narration…is lush and full of wonder as a family is broken and reshaped, and the women come of age, evolve, and grapple with the limits and conflicts of biology and ambition.

Author Blurb Jenny Slate, bestselling author of Little Weirds
I loved this book so much. Ramona Ausubel writes with such humor, but also shining intellect and vulnerability. The Last Animal shows the value of taking risks even when the heart is broken, and that sometimes risk brings with it a return to warmth. Gorgeous.

Author Blurb Kristen Arnett, author of With Teeth
The Last Animal is pitch perfect, a phylum of every hurt and want traded between mothers and daughters. I was captivated by the spirit of this tightly-woven story. How magical to consider the world as very large and yet very small all at the same time. A tender, fascinating look into the bruised things that can lay buried inside a family.

Author Blurb Weike Wang, author of Chemistry
I never thought I would fall in love with a wooly mammoth, but without a doubt I did. Here is an unlikely story of family and tenacity, of existence and striving to exist even if you are told you cannot. The women of this remarkable family astounded me. They are brilliant, kind, and utterly fearless. The prose is gorgeous. Each sentence pulsates with such heart and life.

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Beyond the Book

De-extinction Projects: The Example of the Auroch

Heck bull, cow, and calf in GermanyThe Last Animal by Ramona Ausubel describes a cutting-edge scientific endeavor to bring the woolly mammoth back from extinction by combining its DNA with that of a modern Asian elephant and growing the resulting embryo in an elephant's (or an artificial) womb. The animal that is born will not be genetically identical to a wooly mammoth, but a cold-resistant elephant that would occupy the same ecological niche. Though it sounds like something out of Jurassic Park, there is a similar, real-life project being undertaken by Colossal Biosciences which began in 2021 and is anticipated to be complete by 2027. The theoretical process involved was also described in the 2015 book How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction by Beth Shapiro.

...

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