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Migratory Animals: A Novel

3.36  ·  Rating details ·  698 ratings  ·  118 reviews
A powerful debut novel about a group of 30-somethings struggling for connection and belonging, Migratory Animals centers on a protagonist who finds herself torn between love and duty

“An ambitious, highly accomplished debut.” —Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

When Flannery, a young scientist, is forced to return to Austin from five years of research in
Kindle Edition, 320 pages
Published January 20th 2015 by Harper Perennial
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Mary Yes! I don't want to give anything away, but birds do play an important role in the book, particularly for the character Alyce.…moreYes! I don't want to give anything away, but birds do play an important role in the book, particularly for the character Alyce.(less)
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Average rating 3.36  · 
Rating details
 ·  698 ratings  ·  118 reviews

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Diane S ☔
Jul 15, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love the cover of this book and yes, the birds do mean something. It is also the first book where I would personally like to meet all the main characters. This group of friends, two are siblings, are now in their thirties and are at a crossroads in their professional lives and personal ones. The book is narrated by a few different people, so we get different viewpoints.

I enjoyed this story, which deals with some important issues such as Huntington disease, depression, climate changes and chil
Mar 28, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
30-something hipsters dealing with life and you know what, it's haaaard. [Sidebar: I'm totally referencing a skit in an episode of Robot Chicken mocking the Hills, where everything is haaaaard.]

The writing isn't terrible, although there are some weird italicized flashbacks that I don't really understand the point of, and the author feels the need to explain everything from birds to ice crystals to looms in detail that I'm not sure is necessary. The hipsters are hipsters, which isn't too annoying
Sherry Anne
I wanted so badly to fall in love with this book – thematically and conceptually, it was both beautiful and thought-provoking – but no matter how much I tried I just couldn’t get excited about it. It started out well, as the protagonist Flannery leaves her partner and work in Nigeria to visit her family back in the States. She discovers her sister is sick with the same illness their mother had, which leads to mixed feelings about going home and further drama with her old friendship group. Flanne ...more
Nov 23, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Migratory Animals
Mary Helen Specht

What it's all about...

The key character in this book seems to be Flannery but she has a circle of friends and a sister...Molly...who are also integral to this book. Flannery is a scientist who has spent the last five years in Nigeria. She is engaged to a Nigerian. Flannery's family carries the gene for Huntington's Disease. Actually Flannery doesn't carry it but her mother died from it and her sister carries the gene and seems to be coming down with the diseas
Bonnie Brody
Migratory Animals is a debut novel with both good and bad aspects. It reminded me of 'The Big Chill' revisited. There are several books in this genre and I had to ask myself if there is a good reason to add one more. I don't think there is.

The story begins as Flannery, a scientist, returns to Austin, Texas from Nigeria, ostensibly to seek more money for her research project. She has been in Nigeria for five years and is in love with a Nigerian named Kunle whom she met shortly after she arrived i
Jessica Jeffers
Consider this a very strong three and a half stars. The writing here is pretty solid. The only reason I came down a star is that the story itself wasn't as consistently strong.

Flannery is a climate scientist who has lived in Nigeria for the past five years. When her lab's grant runs out, she leaves her fiancee behind to return home to Texas. The plan is that she will work on her research long enough to find new funding and then go back "home" to Africa. Upon arriving in Texas, however, she real
Julia Tulloh Harper
I had really high hopes for this one as I love Mary Helen Specht's non-fiction writing, which I've read in the Texas Observer, and her short fiction which has been published in a range of US journals. While I liked some of this book I think it struggled with focus and in the end I couldn't finish it. There were so many different characters that it was hard to absorb (the story is not that long, so the narrative seemed a bit thinly spread over so many characters). Enjoyed Molly and Flan's storyli ...more
Rhiannon Johnson
This review originally appeared in this blog post:

This book caught my attention last autumn and I was so excited to read it that I skipped over others in my TBR. Totally not like me at all but I loved every page of this novel. A female scientist returns to the States from Nigeria and faces the impending loss of her sister. She believes herself to be one woman in Nigeria but quickly digresses to her previous self when returning to her family. I related wit
DJ Sakata
Dec 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Favorite Quotes:

“Kunle was untainted by the loss and heartbreak Flannery’s family dragged behind it like a lizard’s tail.”

“His father was a Mexican who didn’t much like Mexicans, and it was only later than Santi became to wonder what that might do to a person’s psyche.”

“Over time, Molly would discover there were all sorts of baggage and sharp edges to these people who eventually became her closest circle. But in that moment, looking at them from the outside, all she could see were lives that exi
I won this through first reads on Goodreads
A beautifully written, descriptive and thought provoking novel. This is the story about a group of friends, who had met in college and of a relationship between two sisters, Molly who finds out she has developed Huntington's disease, a genetic disease which had killed their mother and Flannery returning home from Africa, where she left a fianc_, so that she could do some research back home,with the thought of returning to her fianc_ once she raised some
Jaclyn Day
May 27, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In this book, a group of adults who became friends in grad school reunite when one of the members–Flannery–returns to Texas from Nigeria where she’s been working in climate research for several years. She leaves behind her fiance, Kunle, but promises to return to him soon. Each chapter follows a different person, starting with Flannery. There is Santiago, Flannery’s former boyfriend, and Molly, Flannery’s younger sister who is beginning to show signs of Huntington’s disease (which killed their m ...more
May 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Everyone who saw me reading this book with the birds on the cover assumed I was reading about real animals. I kept saying: It is not about animals; it is about people. But at the time I could not figure out the meaning of the title. Although the title was later explained, my interpretation grew to mean the way people migrate through their lives. In this case, the characters with problems or flaws move towards better selves.

This is not my kind of book but how impressed I was that the author knew
Jan 19, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was impressed with a number of things about this book.

It's very emotionally driven with a swath of interesting characters. The change in narrator gives us a chance to see how each person ticks and what they're hiding as they interact with each other and gave the story a lot of depth. Following the struggles of each character there are a lot of triumphs and tragedies that they face that blends into a well written story.
C.C. Rising
Dec 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What would you do if your family member had a gut-wrenching disease and needed your help, but was too proud to ask? Would you pretend not to notice the telltale signs of the disease, distance yourself, or ask what you could do? Those questions slap main character Flannery in the face and serve as the tapestry of "Migratory Animals." The novel is good because each of us will eventually have to answer those questions.

For the most part, Flannery, a climate scientist in Nigeria, runs from her younge
Sep 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
I received this book through a Goodreads First Reads giveaway.

I was very much looking forward to it--delighted to have won it--and enjoyed it a great deal.

The novel is set in motion when Flannery, a (white) American woman who has been living and working in Nigeria for several years and is engaged to a Nigerian man, has to return to the US after the scientific project she's working on runs into funding issues. Once back in Texas she reunites with family--chiefly her younger sister who is startin
Jan 19, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This sounded like a character driven book and I was not disappointed. This is an exploration of a group of friends and how you cannot run away from your past, you can only deal with it. It's about life that will recycle old problems in new ways until you finally deal with what is in front of you. It deals with death, suicide, hard decisions, love, laughter and friendship. What I also loved about this novel is that the characters are a variety of those in the human race and not all are on the US ...more
Sep 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
I am very excited about this book, which reminds me of Jhumpa Lahiri's work--taut sentences, details grounded in place, and characters experiencing the pull of different cultures, families, and expectations. What impressed me, too, was the seriousness of work for both the male and female characters, who deal with thwarted ambitions, disappointment, and ill-conceived complexes. (Jonathan Yardley, Washing Post's critic, once complained that work played no role in the misfit characters created by G ...more
Jun 28, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
This book started out so promising! The beginning is intriguing and the prose is so well-written. But then I was halfway in and I realized I still couldn't really differentiate between the four extremely similar male characters, and of the three female characters, two of them were pretty detestable. The only redeemable character was Molly, a woman dying from Huntington's, and she was hardly in it at all. Also, the group of friends are constantly remarking how wonderful it is to have each other, ...more
Apr 01, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: women-authors
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 31, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This sad, dark story took me a while to get through. I had to put the book down and was not overly eager to pick it up again. I think that speaks to the connection I felt with the characters. I was rooting for them the whole time, but it just felt so desperate. And real life like, I suppose. I enjoy books with scientists and this fit that bill. There was illness both mental and physical, which was probably the toughest aspect for me. The language and character development was spot on. I think I ...more
Without a doubt, this is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read; it is cinematic in scope: "...the whole tree shook its head at her. A flock of birds swept from the branches, crackling the leaves." Flannery returns to Texas for her imperfect family, from Nigeria, and she has to confront their craziness. In Nigeria, she is in love with Kunle and they have decided to get married, first in the States and then, again, in Nigeria. This is a novel looking inward, slowly revealing t ...more
Andrea MacPherson
I loved this book. I was really drawn to the characters, and their complex, overlapping struggles. Multiple POVs are always a weakness for me, and they were especially successful in this narrative. Specht has a light, lovely touch with language.

That's not to say that I didn't have some issues with the novel. The ending(s) felt a bit rushed, a couple secondary characters were unnecessary, and there were areas where research was apparent, and slowed down the story.

But the positives absolutely ou
Catherine Shattuck
Delicate prose and a story that made me set down the book so many times to try and capture the fleeting memories of my own college days. This is one of those magical books that teaches you beautiful things you never knew -- about the shape of snowflakes and the journey of purple martins, about weaving color and cloth into story and the homeplace we all crave.
Jan 03, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I liked this hit close to home, as the main character, Flannery had similar decisions to make with her life as I did. If you like feeling alot of emotions, this is a book for you. It has family dysfunction, friendships that are tested, some that are made anew, heartache, heartbreak, and a mind finding some long-needed peace. Mary Helen is a wonderful storyteller!
Patricia Geller
Feb 26, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would of given this book a 4.5. It is not earth shakering but a totally satisfactory read about the lives of a group of college friends as they move through their lives, with a focus on one who lives in West Africa. I was happy to pick up where I left off. Great book for traveling with short chapters from different people's perspectives. An easy read without being shallow. ...more
Shawna Seed
Jan 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: texas
I reviewed Mary Helen Specht's impressive debut novel, Migratory Animals, for The Dallas Morning News. You can find the full text of my review here:
Glenda Bixler
Feb 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed-books
Review of this book will appear at Book Reader's Heaven tomorrow... Thank you for visiting there... ...more
How do you rate a book that made literally no impact on you and had such small pockets of interest that you didn't even know if you'd finish it at times, but wasn't boring enough to NOT finish - just made you lazy instead?

Probably a 2 out of 5, right?

Whenever I see in a book description that a character is diagnosed with a horrible illness, I automatically assume it will be at least mildly interesting. I mean, how can it not? There's this morbid fascination piece that I just can't seem to shake,
Alexis Leon
Jul 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book about a group of college friends who are now in their thirties and going through various struggles. Flannery has left the man she loves in Nigeria, Kunle, because her scientific grant has run out; she returns home to Austin, where her younger sister is showing signs of Huntington's disease, the disease that took its long slow toll on their mother. Molly is trying to figure out her future after realizing she has the disease, and Flannery, who doesn't have the Huntington's gene ...more
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Born and raised in Abilene, Texas, Mary Helen Specht has a B.A. in English from Rice University and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Emerson College, where she won the department’s fiction award. Her writing has been nominated for multiple Pushcart Prizes and has appeared in numerous publications, including: The New York Times; The Colorado Review; Prairie Schooner; Michigan Quarterly Review; Th ...more

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