top of page

when we were animals

When Lumen Fowler looks back on her childhood, she is surprised that she became a kind suburban wife, a devoted mother.  In fact, she never thought she would escape her small and peculiar hometown.  When We Were Animals is Lumen's confessional: As a teenager she fell beneath the sway of her community's darkest, strangest secret.  For one year, beginning at puberty, every resident "breaches" during the full moon.  On these nights, adolescents run wild, destroying everything in their path.

Lumen resists.  Promising her father she will never breach, she investigates the mystery of her community's traditions and the stories erased from the town record.  But the more we learn about the town's past, the more we realize that Lumen's memories harbor secrets of their own.

A gothic coming-of-age tale for modern times, When We Were Animals is a dark, provocative journey ito the American heartland.

finalist for the shirley jackson award, 2015

runner-up for the ala reading list (horror), 2016

buy now

Admit it: you remember an animal time in your own life. And if you think you don’t, Joshua Gaylord and his book will lash you with it. When We Were Animals has the power to creep you out and, yes, turn you on.


—John Griesemer, author of Signal & Noise and No One Thinks of Greenland

In Lumen, Gaylord creates an unforgettable and, well, luminous narrative voice, and his language captures the lush, dangerous possibilities of teenage nights to perfection. Working both as a contemporary coming-of-age gothic novel and as a metaphorical exploration of the importance and cost of exploring one’s instinctual side, this book deserves a breakout success like that of Jeffrey Eugenides’s first novel, The Virgin Suicides.


—Neil Hollands, Library Journal

Lumen, the narrator of this disturbing fable from Gaylord (Hummingbirds) that explores the eternal tension between reason and the irrational, grows up with her widowed father in a small Appalachia-like town inhospitable to outsiders. During each full moon, the town’s teenagers “breach”; that is, they run naked and wild, fight with each other, and have sex in the woods. A late bloomer, she moves from childhood into adolescence after her peers; Lumen at first resolves never to breach, but as her hormones begin to stir, she finds herself torn between seemingly good Peter Meechum and wicked Blackhat Roy, who both debases and fascinates her. Gaylord, who has written two horror novels under the pen name Alden Bell, spikes his fitfully lovely language with noisome noir detail. In the end, some readers may regret that Lumen appears to accept that humanity is “a shameful and secret nastiness,” while she misses the honest simplicity of genuine human emotion, too deep for logical explanation.


Publisher's Weekly

Gaylord has managed to craft a werewolf story without any werewolves. Instead, the novel focuses on much more frightening creatures: teenagers. . . . Gaylord has taken bits and pieces from horror, young adult fiction and literary classics along the lines of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness to create Lumen's world. Lumen herself, though, is easily the most impressive component. Under her spell, even the most staid reader would feel the impulse to run wild.


—Hank Stephenson, Shelf Awareness

This was another fantastic genre-bending read from Joshua Gaylord. Part thriller, horror and coming-of-age tale which should have wide appeal beyond the horror market as the author has the writing tools to stand tall with the very best writers of literary fiction out there. . . . [I]t’s a very literary novel, very gothic in style, has limited action, with fantastic descriptions, and if you’re the type of reader that likes all the questions answered and all the boxes ticked, then I suppose you might find this novel a bit frustrating. Not me though, I liked the vagueness of it and maybe not all questions need answering. It was certainly a story that remained with me long after I had finished it and I’ve recommended it to lots of friends.


—Tony Jones, Gingernuts of Horror

When We Were Animals conjures the dreamy satisfaction of revisiting the cult horror movies of your youth—things are familiar but they resound in new and unexpected ways, revealing subtle depths and poignancy. This is a dark, inventive and absorbing story, fittingly theatrical. It disturbs and entertains in equal measure.


—Benjamin Wood, author of The Bellwether Revivals and The Eclectic

Imagine if Twilight were well-written and grown up. Coming of age in this small town is less about braces, and more about street fights and lots of sex. Yes, it really is good.


The Skimm

Joshua Gaylord's fourth effort casts glamours with every plot turn and character reveal, every poignant sentence and magnificent paragraph. There isn't a misstep to be found here, no out-of-place or contrived moments, from the novel's bewitching opening to its pitch-perfect, question-mark conclusion. Gaylord bends and blends genres here, giving us a book simultaneously shelf-able as YA, horror, dark fantasy, or general lit-fic; moreover, the author explores the slippery nature of identity and self-esteem, teenage angst and loneliness (especially when viewed through the lens of maturity), sexual awakening, sexism, human domestication, the American class system, and our long-standing culture of fear. These elements combined create a novel both topical and universal in its thematic concerns, and ensures a broad and diverse audience, both present and future. It's cliché to say it, but there's literally something for everyone here. Another cliché that happens to be true: once immersed in the palatial, fleshed-out, living, breathing (and sometimes seething) world of When We Were Animals, you won't want to leave it. 


—Christopher Schultz, LitReactor

Gaylord’s prose is compulsively readable, possessed of a palpable momentum—the odd time shift notwithstanding. His portrayal of the enigma of adolescence shows a good deal of understanding and empathy, regardless of the literary conventions in which it is sheathed.
At its core, When We Were Animals is a funhouse-mirror look at the rigors of growing up. While its dark conceit certainly exaggerates the process, the feelings at its center ring true. The mysteries of impending adulthood; the pressure to conform to peer standards while still striving to stay true to oneself; the confusion with regards to physical and emotional changes—all are here in heightened form.


—Allen Adams, The Maine Edge

Puberty scares adults for lots of reasons—but for the teenagers being dragged through the doorway it’s scary in a whole other way. Like death and high diving, there are no take-backs. Which is one reason why When We Were Animals is such a brilliant setup. We’re with Lumen as she tries desperately to navigate the unwelcome changes of the breach, which are really the same familiar changes we’ve all gone through (or are facing down)—taken to a speculative extreme. 


—Karen Munro, Strange Horizons

When We Were Animals is so utterly compelling and absorbing that every time I (reluctantly) broke from it, I not only had to remind myself where I was, but who I was. Superbly written, chilling, original and deeply affecting, it will stay with me for a long time.


—Sarah Lotz, author of Day Four

It's poetically written, though-provoking and has a good eye for life's small but important details.


—John Wyatt, The Sun  (UK)

In this coming-of-age tale with a gory twist, Gaylord recounts the troubled adolescence of a good girl in a not-so-good town. It's not unusual for small towns off the beaten path to develop quirky rituals. Lumen Ann Fowler's hometown goes beyond that. When puberty hits, teenagers experience what's known as "breaching," a year-long period of cyclical sex and violence, akin to an orgiastic Rumspringa, which takes place at every full moon on the streets of the town and in the nearby woods. Lumen—the kind of girl with few friends, excellent grades and a great relationship with her widowed dad—is convinced she'll never breach (her mother never did), let alone get her first period. Gaylord cleverly weaves in Lumen's present-day narration, in which she's a happily married mother known as Ann whose husband and young son know nothing about her past, with the events leading up to and including her inevitable inclusion in the bizarre breaching rituals. The usual drama between teenage girls and the boys they covet is heightened not only at school, where the students whisper about their exploits under the previous night's moon, but also during the hypersexualized breaching scenes themselves. At first the tentative Lumen feels outmatched, but as she comes into her own—while unearthing secrets from her mother's past—she discovers that she's a force to be reckoned with. Though the buildup, like Lumen's agonizing wait to breach, is slow, once Gaylord finds his momentum, there's no stopping this bizarrely fascinating journey of dark self-discovery. 


Kirkus Reviews

It's true, the idea of depicting teenagers in a primal state isn't a new one, but, it's Gaylord's own spin on this idea that propels his entire narrative forward. . . . It's a fascinating look at a time during which we think we know everything, only to realize that we don't even know ourselves. Occasionally suspenseful and always interesting, Gaylord's When We Were Animals, takes us on a journey that is at once completely foreign and utterly relatable. 


—Brooke Wylie,

A read that is truly thoughtful, reflective, yet a little bit wild. A contemporary story for lovers of the old gothics. . . . When We Were Animals evokes the werewolf folklore without including the camp-filled clichés we associate with werewolves in film and literature. As a result, Gaylord’s take on werewolves is refreshing, contemporary, and wickedly cool. To all the fans of Dracula, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Frankenstein, this novel is definitely worth your while.


—Hannah Shaw, The Holy Cross Crusader

bottom of page