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IN PAPERBACK 8/3
A bold, riveting debut novel of desire, betrayal, and loss, centering on three teenage girls, a horse ranch, and the tragic accident that changes everything.
Rory Ramos works as a ranch hand at the stable her stepfather manages in Topanga Canyon, California, a dry, dusty place reliant on horses and hierarchies. There she rides for the rich clientele, including twins June and Wade Fisk. While Rory may have unwittingly drawn the interest of out-and-proud June, she’s more intrigued by Vivian Price, the beautiful teenager with the movie-star father who lives down the hill. Rory’s blue-collar upbringing keeps her largely separate from the likes of the Prices—but, perched on her bedroom windowsill, Rory steals glimpses of Vivian swimming in her pool nearly every night.
After Rory’s stepfather is involved in a tragic car accident, the lives of Rory, June, and Vivian become inextricably bound together. Rory discovers photography, begins riding more competitively alongside June, and grows closer and closer to gorgeous, mercurial Vivian, but despite her newfound sense of self, disaster lurks all around her: in the parched landscape, in her unruly desires, in her stepfather’s wrecked body and guilty conscience. One night, as the relationships among these teenagers come to a head, a forest fire tears through Topanga Canyon, and Rory’s life is changed forever.
Kept Animals is narrated by Rory’s daughter, Charlie, twenty years after that fateful 1993 fire. Realizing that the key to her own existence lies in the secret of what really happened that unseasonably warm fall, Charlie is finally ready to ask questions about her mother’s past. But with Rory away on assignment as a war photographer, Charlie knows she must unravel the truth for herself.
“With precise and sensuous prose, so gorgeous it’s gasp-inducing, Kept Animals tells an epic story of loss, identity, and that which binds—and unravels—a community. Milliken’s unforgettable characters face dangers of all kinds, be it familial, romantic, or of the natural world. To experience, as a reader, this mysterious, mesmerizing, and menacing pocket of Southern California is a true pleasure and thrill. Kate Milliken has talent to burn. I love this novel.”
—Edan Lepucki, author of California and Woman No. 17
“Milliken trusts us to keep up with her fast-paced tale, catching clues on the fly as we careen through the intricate story lines. But she’s at her best when she lingers, treating us to deft insights and gorgeous, sensual description…Kept Animals is an event-packed novel of class, desire, coming-of-age and familial disintegration. It’s also a knowing depiction of an unstable world where residents can be as treacherous as the landscape.”
—Janet Fitch, The New York Times Book Review
“In this scorching novel set on a ranch in California’s Topanga Canyon, a tragedy binds three teenage girls together during the summer of 1993. Flashing between the past and the present, Kate Milliken’s narrative burns slowly, building to a wildfire.”
“Early-’90s California provides a vivid backdrop to this novel that follows the interactions between teen ranch hand Rory Ramos and her rich clientele, including a troublesome pair of teenage twins and a beautiful movie star’s daughter, as each of them reacts to a car accident that indelibly changes the path of their futures.”
“A wildly compelling and all-consuming debut, Kept Animals flares with the unforgettable voices and textures of adolescence. Milliken precisely captures the danger, anxiety, and white-hot hunger of being a teenage girl on the cusp—and she does so in prose full of wit, brazen beauty, and style.”
—Kimberly King Parsons, author of Black Light
“Kept Animals is a searing, beautifully written look at a place, a time, and a community set along the fault lines of class, race, climate, and coincidence. This novel will stay with me for a long time.”
—Lydia Kiesling, author of The Golden State
“Her attention to details of place and time, as well as the casual cruelties those of privilege can inflict on those who have less, provide astute undercurrents to the propulsive plot. Milliken’s electric tale keenly documents the power of first love and the lingering hurt of trauma.”
“Kept Animals is a darkly beautiful book, tender yet powerful, an exquisite exploration of hurt and desire, the why of wanting, taking and giving. And Kate Milliken knows her stuff when it comes to horses.”
—Jeannette Walls, author of The Glass Castle and Half Broke Horses
“A gripping debut novel … Milliken pulls out all the stops to deliver a riveting page-turner, an unforgettable story of loss and renewal. She is a powerful talent to watch.”
—Library Journal, starred review
“Like the winding canyon road that runs through the heart of this story, the world of Kept Animals is both harrowing and beautiful, full of hairpin turns that bring characters face-to-face with what lurks in the darkness—both within themselves and the people around them. Kate Milliken has written a devastating, impeccably crafted book.”
—Cristina Henriquez, author of The Book of Unknown Americans
“Milliken’s debut is a surprisingly suspenseful coming-of-age novel…swift-moving and engaging…Rory is a lovely companion, and readers will enjoy following her through her trials and tribulations.”
“From its opening pages, Kept Animals crackles with swift, cinematic energy. Milliken not only displays deep perceptiveness about the tangled web of class and privilege in Southern California, but shrewdly captures a period in recent history that holds profound warnings and reflections for our current moment.”
—Francisco Cantú, author of The Line Becomes a River
“What do you get when you add horses, heat, teenagers, violence, alcohol, love, class, competition, fame, and desire to a raw California landscape? You get one giant conflagration of a debut novel. Kate Milliken has written an epic coming-of-age story of three young women whose families are falling apart just as they are beginning to recognize their own sexual power. Dangerous and dark, sexy and haunting, glamorous and gritty, Kept Animals is a book you’ll read as if it’s on fire.”
—Eleanor Henderson, author of The Twelve-Mile Straight and Ten Thousand Saints
“As ravishing and gracefully rugged as the horse ranch at its heart, Milliken’s first novel begins with a car accident that upends the lives of four California families whose disparate means and desires intersect in ways none of them can grasp—even two decades later.”
—O., The Oprah Magazine