Arlee Gold is anxious about spending the summer at the college prep Camp Rockaway—the same camp her mother attended years ago, which her mother insists will help give Arlee a “fresh start” and will “change her life.” Little does Arlee know that, once she steps foot on the manicured grounds, this will prove to be true in horrifying ways.
Even though the girls in her cabin are awesome—and she’s developing a major crush on the girl who sleeps in the bunk above her—the other campers seem to be wary of Arlee, unwilling to talk to her or be near her, which only ramps up her paranoia. When she’s tapped to join a strange secret society, Arlee thinks this will be her shot at fitting in...until her new "sisters" ask her to do the unthinkable, putting her life, and the life of her new crush, in perilous danger.
Julia Lynn Rubin lives the writer's life in Brooklyn. She earned an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults at The New School in 2017, and for three years, served as a writing mentor for Girls Write Now, New York City's premiere writing program for high school girls.
Julia has been writing books, poems, and stories since first grade, and loves reading about everything from film analysis to psychology. Her short stories have appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Sierra Nevada Review, and The Lascaux Review, and she writes for a variety of online publications, including BuzzFeed, Penguin Random House (GetUnderlined.com), and Road2College.com, among others.
Julia is passionate about realism and diversity in teen literature. She hopes to one day own a French bulldog, pug, Boston terrier, or perhaps a mix of all three. She loves indie films, drag shows, and spending as much time as possible at the beach.
2.50 Stars. This was weird AF, but unfortunately not in a good way. I’m really bummed about this one. I was so excited to get the ARC of this book since it was one of my more anticipated reads of the year. I love YA horror -especially with a sapphic twist- but this was a head scratcher, and I’m left wondering what did I really just read?! The really disappointing thing is that the premise had some really good potential. There were so many interesting paths the main storyline could have followed; instead it took the least interesting one possible.
First off, well maybe it is just me, but is this even horror? This just felt like a dark drama with a little psychological suspense in it. Yes, there were a few gross things, and I have a genuine phobia of spiders like the main character had, but bugs and some violence doesn’t make horror in my personal opinion. There were so many ways to stick some horror into the story, and I kept waiting for it, but I just never got to see it.
There were many things I didn’t really understand or felt like the set-up was too unbelievable for this type of story. For instance, the whole piano thing really threw me off. Sure, I understood the connection, but seriously why would it be a part of what happened, and why was it even such a big storyline of the book. My mother wouldn’t let me play drums and forced me to take piano lessons, which I hated. Trust me that livid experience was not worth half a book and it wasn’t worth half a book for this main character either. There were other things I didn’t get like about the black-out/ zone-outs the main character kept having. I was waiting for something, anything to happen with them… but just like all the time spent on her bug phobias, everything seemed to fizzle out. I’m trained to expect that if an author spends a lot of time on a certain subject that it will mean something, instead it was the opposite in this book.
The only thing I liked a little bit was the sapphic romance. The more I kind of think about it the more messed up it actually was, but there were some sweet and well done moments that stuck out in the bit of mess that kind of was everything else. I do have to say the way the romance ends is kind of iffy. I’ll put a spoiler up for those who are interested.
TLDR: I’m sorry to say that this was not the book for me. I’m disappointed as I was very excited to read it. I will say that for every 1 and 2 star rating; this has a 4 or 5 star rating to match it. I have not seen a book this polarizing in a long time. There are almost no 3 star ratings as people seem to either really like it or really dislike it. While this didn’t have the horror elements or interesting story I was looking for, and I cannot recommend this read, there clearly are people who enjoyed it so YMMV.
When my editor gave me the okay to write a horror novel, I thought: Oh wow, I’m really going to go for it. I’m going to make it as dark and disturbing as I possibly can, and lean into all of the elements that I love about great horror stories.
I wrote and edited most of PRIMAL ANIMALS in the dark winter months of late 2020 and early 2021, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a labor of love, but also one of pain. At times, it was like pulling teeth trying to get words on the page, even though I had a deadline to meet. My mind was—like the minds of millions of others—scrambled and depressed. My thoughts felt fragmented, and the future was uncertain and terrifying in a way that it never had been before. Reading the book now, the terror and anguish of that time really bleeds through every page, every word.
At the time, though, I couldn’t see it. The process of drafting this book was so taxing, I convinced myself that it was a "bad book" and that my editor would hate it. Turns out, she loved it, and had tons of amazing suggestions to strengthen it. It’s funny how powerful the mind can be—especially when it lies to you in the most insidious of ways—and how when you’re depressed, things can feel utterly hopeless, even when they ultimately aren’t.
My favorite young adult novels play heavily into interiority, or the thoughts, feelings, and inner struggles of a character. With PRIMAL ANIMALS, I wanted to write a truly complicated, unreliable, perhaps “unlikable” girl who was willing to reveal the flawed parts of herself, including her secret sources of shame. As dark as PRIMAL ANIMALS gets, Arlee Gold’s story also contains glimmers of hope. Like Arlee, we all have our shame and fears, but each of us also has more inner strength than we know.
Um. What the fuck. I thought this was a fantasy and it was a fucking YA horror???
Why do I not pay attention to book synopses? Why? When I got this book on Netgalley my only reaction was “Oh my God, I’ve been looking forward to this one so much!” without knowing why.
As a matter of fact, I did actually enjoy this book. The plot was so engaging and I literally sped through the whole thing. I was interested because I was told it would give me “dark secrets, summer camp, lesbians and an ominous atmosphere”, and that was what I got.
I could not put this book down for the two days (yes, two days) that I spent reading it. I literally abandoned my homework in favor of reading for a few hours. Which honestly is not that rare, but still.
The whole time, I was questioning everything that happened. I had no idea what was going to happen next or what each character was doing, and that anticipation was amazing. I felt like I was being dragged along by the twisted lines of this story.
The atmosphere was very bitchy, very dark, very ominous and a little bit grossly terrifying. But also addicting.
I loved how all-encompassing the setting felt. It was like as soon as Arlee entered Camp Rockaway, that was the whole world, and that was what it was like reading it. This book was an experience, and a lot of that experience came from the dark atmosphere.
“I’m so cozy under my blankets, and all I want to do is close my eyes and sleep forever. Maybe if I sleep long enough, I can wake up and pretend that none of this was ever real. That it never happened. That there isn’t a horrible, animal part of me that’s clawed free once again.”
This book was actually disturbing. A lot of the time I was reading, my brain kept going “is this actually what people are like” and it scared me because, under the right circumstances, things like this could actually happen in real life??? Which I find very twisted???
And yet it managed to be so alluring at the same time.
Arlee was a very interesting main character. I loved how her narrative changed so much to show her development and how her character was just so unexpected. When I started the book, I was worried she would just be another basic white-girl protagonist, but she actually made the book so good.
Honestly, all of the characters felt like they were going to be one-sided at first, which made me think this was going to be a very bitchy, flat book. They were not. Things got so complicated and there were so many secrets and I was both relieved and horrified.
There was actually a lot of diversity in terms of sexuality, gender and race, even though they weren’t touched upon that much. Most of it was mentioned in passing, like how Ginger was trans or the color of Lisha’s skin, but it was consistent and inclusive, and I appreciated that.
The writing conveyed the book so beautifully and in a way that scared me. Arlee’s narration was the right touch of naive, anxious, angry and scared for a teenage girl with dark secrets, and the tone made everything seem suspicious but also glorified. I don’t know how to describe Camp Rockaway, because nothing could ever do it the way this book did.
Arlee’s fear of bugs was something that deeply disgusted me, because I am also an arachnophobe and the way the book described things was just so…perfectly eerie.
I also loved the way this book portrayed self-image and toxic relationships. It was so raw and furious and honest in a way that I did not expect. From how Arlee feels about the way she looks and her self-consciousness to the things we think we hear people say, this book really just went into a lot of psychology without being too probing or philosophical. It was just real.
It brought up how authority figures like parents and teachers can affect our mindsets, and peer pressure and group activities can change our behaviors. Maybe it’s because I was also going through my old psych notes at the time, but I just loved that.
“Mom insisted that Miss Teresa’s methods, though harsh, came from a place of love. I never felt that love. Not really from Mom, either. All I ever did was attempt to please her. How is that love?”
Overall, this book was just…trippy. I was amazed, horrified, and generally just enthralled. I don’t know how or why but this book had me in its clutches by the halfway mark.
Essentially, this review could just be the word "no" and it would've perfectly captured my feelings about this book, but I also have a little more to say (though I will hold myself back, just to be sure).
Everything about this book was weak, in my opinion. The writing felt like I was reading a summary of the plot with no emotions included, which made the characters fall flat, too. This made for a weak horror novel plot, too, since there was literally nothing creepy about this. Not because there isn't questionable shit happening (trust me: there definitely is lol), but because the writing was... not it.
Plus, the premise we were promised from the blurb only started around 65% into the book, and even when that started, it just wasn’t special for me at all. Especially the ending was a big no for me.
Also,,, what was feminist about this?? :')
There was just something off about the entirety of this book and I... did not like it. At all.
I suspect this is going to be a polarizing book- it's either going to work for you or you aren't going to like it. As much as the concept was appealing and I wanted to like this, I really was not a fan. Primal Animals is a queer YA horror novel about a summer camp and a dark secret society.
Pros: - Primal Animals certainly delivers on the horror and doesn't flinch from grotesque and disturbing descriptions. So if you're looking for that, you might like this. Personally, I want my horror to feel meaningful or like it's saying something and this didn't give me that. - Queer representation including a sapphic romance and queer girls who are allowed to be messy and do bad things.
Cons: - The horror elements are incredibly disturbing and involve things like harm done to animals, mutilation, gore, and consuming blood in forced and unforced ways. It was a lot to read in a book where I'm left wondering what the point was. I'm not a fan of disturbing things just for shock value. Like - What really was the point of this book? It's not feminist. It talks about sexual assault but doesn't handle it with any degree of care. It feels like a misandrist hellscape with the message that what? Murdering boys is bad? I don't get it. - I also just don't buy that this kind of thing could be so easily covered up, or that it makes sense for her mom to intentionally send her there. The suspension of disbelief just wasn't there for me and I don't get the character motivations.
So yeah, I was not a fan of this overall. It had some interesting ideas and moments of character interactions where I thought it would go in a better direction. But ultimately it just feels empty, without meaning to the disturbing scenes. There is a world in which this could have been smart yet brutal, but this was not what I was hoping for. I received an audio review copy of this book via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
Received ARC from NetGalley for an honest review. This was not good for me. The premise of "Primals Animals," did draw me in -- but it failed to achieve much of anything. It's not a feminist statement or one of sisterhood. It meanders and while it tries to leave a mark, the overall book is fairly toothless. The story follows Arlee, who is dropped off at a summer camp. Arlee is socially awkward, terrified of bugs, and not really looking forward to time away at this ultra-rich, college prep summer camp. When she arrives, everyone seems to be afraid of her. But why? After being invited to join a secret society, Arlee just might find out. My issues with this book are although it wants to be like a feminist statement, it really just says nothing. Like, yes, murder is wrong but I just felt like Arlee's self-riotousness was annoying and actually sympathized with the villains of the tale. Was I supposed to walk away from this novel rooting for Arlee? Because I did not. Instead, the mysteries never paid off and I think Rubin wanted to write some sort of statement but it didn't. And you know what? We should skin rapists. Like, Arlee was disgusted by that and I was disgusted that Arlee didn't want to skin rapists. Were we supposed to walk away from this book feeling bad for the rapists? I wanted vicious antiheroes, badass women striving to fuck up the patriarchy and all I got was horse guts and murder is wrong. This was not the book for me.
Hello creepy vibes! This storyline is super bizzare and intriguing.
Who would have thought summer camp would be a good place to face your fear of bugs? I mean yea, it makes sense ... but like, why not a bug zoo? Ah yes, because what kind of story would that be? Ha!
I enjoyed Primal Animals. The cover got my attention right away! As I said earlier, the storyline is bizzare, but in a good way. I didn't necessarily find that I connected to the main character Arlee but the story was definitely an interesting one. A couple of scenes gave me the creeps.
A whole lot of triggers in this book so definitely check that out before heading into it.
I’m a sucker for a dark, twisty story about a queer teen girl. Primal Animals follows Arlee Gold as she attends a summer camp where there’s more going on than meets the eye. Her mother’s ominous reputation has been passed down to these new campers, and there’s a secret society that puts Arlee in dangerous situations.
I appreciated how twisted this book got. It didn’t seem like it was pulling punches for a YA audience. There were some truly grotesque descriptions in the story. The plot also went in directions I wasn’t expecting when it came to the “protect the girls” angle.
In the beginning I did have a bit of trouble figuring out who all the different campers and counselors were. There were so many names and descriptions tossed out that I found it hard to keep up with everyone. As I got further into the book I was able to zero in on the important people, but a lot of the side characters still blended together in my mind.
I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as Trouble Girls, Julia Lynn Rubin’s previous book. I think because that one followed a smaller amount of characters it was more focused and didn’t become muddled like Primal Animals did at times. But overall I liked the book and I’m excited to see what she puts out next. She goes places with themes that feel a bit unpredictable, in a good way.
Thank you to the publisher for providing an advance copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I'm not going to say much about what Primal Animals is about because I think it's best to go in not knowing much. All you really need to know is that it takes place on a summer camp girl gets pulled into a secret society there. This book is something else, from the plot to the setting to the characters, I was invested in all of it. I love horror that gradually gets under your skin and this story delivered exactly what I wanted and then some. Primal Animals is haunting and beautifully written and if you like horror thriller with a sapphic romance, I definitely recommend this book!
A special thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press & Wednesday Books for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Arlee is spending her first summer away from home at Camp Rockaway, a college prep camp that her mother went to. As soon as she arrives, she feels like something is off. People are whispering about her mother but won’t tell her why. She feels like an outsider and begins to see some odd things occurring throughout the camp. When she receives an invitation to join a secret society, she eagerly accepts, thinking this is her way to make more friends. Little does she know she’s stepping into much more than she bargained for.
The plot of this work was interesting, but I felt that the horror aspect was lacking. There were definitely some odd and unsettling buildups to the “final horror,” but there was a lack of any real emotion conveyed, making the tension completely lacking. It’s difficult to get sucked into horror when the story was written in a way that felt flat. There were also some particularly gross plot points included that didn’t add to the plot, so it just felt like gross moments for the sake of “horror.”
On a related note, the timeline of the story was really rushed. There was no real time for character development or for the friendships/relationships to occur at what felt like a realistic pace. In fact, I think the first half of the book largely occurs over two or three days and the characters are just thrown at you one after the other. I would have liked for there to be more of a focus on the characters and their interactions – that could have been a great place for the author to build more suspense.
Arlee was not a relatable protagonist for me. She was difficult to like or relate to. She also had a secret that I think was supposed to build suspense/tension, but for about 80% of the book it constantly gets mentioned and alluded to, which gets frustrating and repetitive. And the other characters were essentially just names on a page – no real personalities, character development, or anything along those lines.
I can see why some folks enjoy this read, but unfortunately it just wasn’t for me.
I received a complimentary copy of this work through NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.
“I feel...nothing. Like I am made of emptiness and floating through space, and where I am now is merely my spirit drifting among the stars.”
Firstly, a huge thank you to @turnthepagetours for sending me this ARC!!! Now for my review!
This book was so so so close to being four stars, yet it just didn't make it. 3.5 stars is what I'm giving it. This book was written in such a fun way that made you feel like you were at this summer camp along with Arlee. I honestly recommend going into this book not knowing anything and if I could of, that's what I would have done.
The characters are all unique and so fun to read about. The mc, Arlee, I couldn't connect with that much, but this book is fairly short.
I loved the cute romance involved in Primal Animals. It was written out fairly well and I was definitely rooting for two characters. Possibly a spoiler so I will not say who.
This book has a good pace, though I wish more happened at the beginning rather than all at the end. I did find some parts of the book unneeded and some really weird to incorporate. I wish some things would have been explained more instead of left uncovered.
Overall, this book has summer vibes with a twist of mystery. This contemporary thriller was an enjoyable and fast read. It did lack a bit, yet I couldn't help but keep reading!
This book was SO DISTURBING on so many levels, I was so not expecting that. Sure, it’s marketed as horror, but also YA so I didn’t think it’d get so graphic (TWs at the end). Primal Animals tells the story of Arlee Gold, an outcast teenage girl set to spend the summer at elite college prep Camp Rockaway, in preparation for college admissions. But from the moment she arrives, Arlee can feel there’s something off about Camp Rockaway. The other campers, who have all known each other for years, seem to be afraid of her and her mother’s reputation, who went to the camp herself as a teenager. And soon, Arlee is recruited to join a secrete all-girls “order” that is more than a little shady.
I’d say what this book has going on for itself is the atmosphere. An elite summer camp in the woods, with no cell phones and a bunch of privileged teenagers, is the perfect set up for a horror story. The writing and pacing were good, and I did feel creeped out by the descriptions of the environment and the bugs, but even more so by Arlee herself. She had a really twisted mind, her mood could change extremely quickly, and I really thought that she could do something crazy or dangerous (or both) at any moment, especially since it’s a first person narration. She clearly struggled mentally, with her weird bursts of anger that she couldn’t always control, and I actually thought that she was mad at some point, like she was making it all up and was an unreliable narrator. But then other times, she had weird bursts of ethics instead, and acted as if she were better than everyone around her, before going back to self-depreciation on the next page. If it was done on purpose to show how unstable she was, well-done, but it also made her rather unlikeable and appear almost hypocritical. Regarding the other characters, I really loved the girls Arlee shared her cabin with. Her love interest, Winnie, was one of them, and she was cute but almost seemed like a fake person – which made the final reveal seem even more bizarre and out of place. But EVERYONE ELSE in the story was an absolute nightmare. The cult members, the counsellors, the camp leader, even Arlee’s parents (BOTH of them) who were actually very abusive… No wonder girlie was struggling. Speaking of, I didn’t really get why her mother didn’t send her to camp sooner, at the same age as all the other girls? Especially since it appears she had been preparing her daughter for the order ever since she was little… It might be because of money, but then isn’t it weird that Caroline (the camp leader) didn’t let Arlee go to camp for free, since she was so close to her mum? Also, at the beginning of the book, it’s said that her dad helped pay for camp, but then he's also showed living in a small and dilapidated flat. So I’m not sure what that was about. There’s also a recurring theme in the book that everyone hates and flees from Arlee. For the other campers, it’s explained that they’re afraid of her because of her mother’s reputation, but that didn’t make much sense to me. Why would they assume Arlee’s a horrible person, just because they vaguely heard that her mother terrified everyone back when she was at camp… Same with the counsellors who all seemed to dislike her, but also be scared of her, like Anna, and I’m not sure we ever find out why. And finally, Arlee’s old piano teacher was an old BITCH, and I wish we had gotten an explanation as to why. Was she part of the order? Is that why she was so demanding? Anyway, without any good explanation for any of these things, I must simply conclude that Arlee was in fact super weird and disagreeable, and made everyone uncomfortable, and that’s why they stayed away from her lol.
I can’t say too much about the story, because anything would be a spoiler, but I don’t have too much to say anyway. It was a weird and creepy cult story with lots of secrets, and when the main plot element (the “unthinkable” thing her sisters ask her to do, mentioned in the summary) happened, I wasn’t disappointed or surprised, it was about what I was expecting. I’m not sure how to feel about the order’s actions and mission. Because, yes, we SHOULD protect girls. We SHOULD punish rapists and abusers. And the history of their organisation seems to indicate that at some point, they were only doing what’s right, back when it was an eye for an eye, protecting themselves the only way they could, since the system wouldn’t. So I think I would’ve liked a little more nuance. And actually, this would’ve worked much better if it had been set in the past, when there was truly NOTHING protecting girls from assault, because then the order’s actions and methods would’ve been much more legitimate in my opinion.
Overall, if you like twisted horror stories, you might enjoy this, but make sure to check the TWs. It was short (I listened to the audiobook) and again, I thought the atmosphere was depicted very well, so I don’t regret reading it exactly. But it was definitely too much for my taste. TWs : sexual assault, rape, blood, gore, cult, animal flesh eating, corpse desecration, death, murder, bugs, parental abuse. Thanks you to NetGalley and RB Media for providing an audiobook ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Have you ever read a book that should’ve been interesting… but wasn’t?
The Good – The romance is almost cute? – Decent prose, telling-over-showing aside – Solid concept
The Bad – The execution FLOPS my dudes – Nothing HAPPENS for most of the book – Fails to build atmosphere or tension – Alllll the telling over showing!! All of it!! – Weak ass message – Has Rubin ever read a single book on storycraft???
I don’t know if I’d call it talent, but it sure requires SOMETHING to take secret societies/cults, bloody rituals, murder, and dismemberment, and produce a dull book.
This is why Primal Animals is SO FRUSTRATING: Rubin’s collected all the right ingredients, but she executes it like she hasn’t read a single fucking thing about storycraft in her life.
You can see the book it’s supposed to be: Arlee’s lack of self-worth leads her to a cultish secret society of sisters who offer her unconditional love and acceptance. Although Arlee wants to do something about how the boys harass the girls, the sisterhood’s methods leave her doubtful until they push her too far.
And this would’ve been a great book! I would love to follow along with a protagonist as things get messy and complicated and we don’t realize how far gone she (and we) are until we have a moment of ugly clarity and things unravel HORRIBLY.
The problem is Primal Animals is not that book.
And the problem is that nothing happens. Primal Animals is 95% Arlee glossing over her day, doing boring shit or wallowing FOREVER in self-loathing—we get it, she did piano and no one said good job—with an ungodly padding of heavy-handed “but something is ~off~ about camp” every five minutes. Maybe two things worth reading happen in the entire book, and then Arlee caps it off with a weak, “All violence is bad—even against rapists!”
Setting aside the telling-over-showing, Rubin’s prose was decent.
Unfortunately, I have little good to say. I liked the book concept, and the core of Arlee’s character, even if the execution sucked. The romance was sweet, if a bit fast, but ends in a bury your gays. Also… Rubin doesn't seem to know the difference between "not rich" and "poor.” Arlee's mom's a lawyer, but she talks about public school like she lives barely above the poverty line.
(Primal Animals is out May 24th. Thank you to Wednesday Books and Netgalley for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review! And I’m sorry!)
1/5 stars, the only way I connected to the main character was her fear of moths, because me too
Thank you to St. Martins Press for the arc through netgalley in exchange for an honest review!
Initially, when I read this I rated this 3 stars, but I remember absolutely nothing about this book besides how grueling it was to try to finish it. So instead, I have bumped my review rating down to one star, because I really remember nothing besides how little I enjoyed this story. This also might be reflective of me going into 2023 trying to be slightly more critical of the ratings I give things, like acknowledging that 3 stars are not a bad rating. But anyways, I'll get on with the few things I have to say I remember about this book.
First of all, this cover is stunning and I've found that I enjoy stories set at summer camp-esque locations, especially if secret societies are involved. And while I do remember the summer camp aspect being really strong, the plotline surrounding the secret societies took soooooo long to come to fruition, and just felt very slow and drawn out. That was the case for most of this book, it felt like nothing was happening when there were plot twists going on.
There was not a real tone set even halfway through the book, and I was hoping for so much more from the concept than what did happen. I could never sit myself down and become super invested in the story because the plot jumped all over the place. The only way that I could relate to the main character was her fear of moths, but other than that she didn't make any sense.
I think there are better thriller & summer camp books out there than the story I received in this one, and don't really recommend it unless you want to be confused the entire time you are reading.
[TW: death of a parent, anxiety depiction, panic attacks, fear of moths and bugs, drinking and drunk state, dead bodies, ritual sacrifice (of humans and animals), cult themes, kidnapping, abduction of a minor, bad religious experience, mutilation, poisoning, child abandonment, gaslighting]
A quite frankly messed up story about a cult-like sisterhood that creeps in the shadows of a prestigious summer camp. I was horrified reading this book and disgusted, honestly some of the plot points were just disturbing. The author used sensational writing that had me grossed out and horrified, but wasted all of those reactions as they added nothing to the plot, only served as gag-worthy distractions. Everything about this book turned out to be deeply disturbing and left me feeling like I needed to shower. Not an enjoyable read. The only positive thing about it was the LGBTQIA+ representation.
When Arlee is sent to the camp her mother attended as a teen, Arlee is more than a little anxious about it. First off, the bugs. Second, there's definitely a weird vibe to the camp, and the other campers act strange when they realize who Arlee's mother is. Then Arlee is invited to join a secret sorority within the camp, one that promotes protecting the sisters at all costs. Soon Arlee is spiraling into a nightmare and unsure which is more dangerous: her sorority sisters, or herself.
This is the second book I've read in quick succession that involves a summer camp and murder (the first was Dig Two Graves). Arlee's mental state made her seem like an unreliable narrator as she second-guessed everyone's motives, but the camp definitely had some very creepy undertones that could not be explained away by a little anxiety and paranoia. I'm not entirely sure why anyone would want to attend this camp unless they were legacies like Arlee was (fun fact: in the other summer camp book I just read, the main character was also a legacy). The unnerving vibe of the story really pulled me in and I finished this so fast. Things felt surreal and the author does not shy away from describing gore. The romance between Arlee and Winnie was slow enough to be realistic, although I wanted more of Winnie's reactions in the ending. The ending felt a little bit rushed, with the fallout from the narrator's decision being described in a news article - it was like being led up to a cliff and pushed off and that's it, that's the end. But overall this story had a powerful, primal feel to it that made it a gripping read.
this review will contain spoilers. read at your own risk
tws: anxiety/panic attacks, fear of bugs (entomophobia), blood mention/self harm, hazing (licking blood), underage alcohol usage, mention of parental abuse, cheating (from a parental figure), murder off page (recounted), mention of dead animals, sexism, discussions of sexual assault/harassment, arson, emetophobia warning (a lot of discussion of wanting to throw up & on page throwing up),
This book was... not for me... I found Arlee (the main character) so utterly insufferable that I could not root for her or anything she did. I'm not sure if we were supposed to come away hating her, but, man... she was rough. We spend 75% of the book where Arlee holds this secret above our heads (but also brings up this secret every, like, two pages) that when she finally reveals what happens I literally didn't care anymore.
The pacing of this book was also off - the first 40% of the book happens over the course of two days and then the next half takes place over another month and a half/two months. I was begging for the pace to pick up and then it went too fast very quick. Speaking of things going too fast - meeting the characters. I could not tell you a single character in this book's personality traits. We met them all like once and then they were just randomly thrown in throughout the book. (There's a scene where Arlee is getting glared at by this girl Melody and she's like just saying how that makes sense or whatever.. Girl, who is Melody?... Who is she?... I do not know her.)
The romance also utterly sucked? Winnie was annoying but very, very one-dimensional and it was like insta-love. Day 2 and Arlee was like waxing poetic about how she loved Winnie. Calm down ma'am. The following quote is from about 85-ish% of the way in:
My next issue comes with this secret society. Why did everyone at this camp know what Arlee's mom did, if this is supposed to be a secret society for murder and protecting girls? Did we miss the definition of "secret"? Y'all are supposed to be smart this is a fancy-shmancy SAT-prep camp, y'all should know what a secret means... Shut up and stop telling people what you did? On the vein of secrets - Arlee's mom is equally fucked up for letting her go into that unprepared. IDK their family needs a really good fucking therapist if you ask me.
But my biggest issue with this book is that it was not this feminist masterclass in sisterhood and "girl power" and protecting each other, or whatever the fuck the idea of the secret society was supposed to be. But also... if we're so big on protecting women... what the fuck was that ending?
Now, onto some smaller things that I just didn't like because I can be a picky bitch: 1. The way we didn't get any type of backstory/info about that camper who Arlee replaced, but she was mentioned repeatedly (I don't remember her name, let's be honest). 2. I was expecting there to be ~multiple~ secret societies because of the recurring imagery of owls, deers, and horses together. Like, if one secret society has a horse icon, I was expecting another with owls and a third with deers. I think we deserved more secret societies. 3. This quote from about 95% of the way through: "While Mom makes us both coffees with almond milk—our favorite”. That's just a red flag babe, who likes almond milk? Also, your almond milk does nothing after you . (TW for this spoiler: animal gore). 4. The Coda... 5. (TW for this spoiler: animal gore). 6. I literally ended my notes for this book with "she's just stupid" which kind of aptly sums up my thoughts.
So would I recommend this to a friend? Hard pass. Would I read any of the author's other work? Maybe. To be determined. We can find out together.
Overall, this book wasn't the horror it proclaimed to be, it was just boring and a waste of my time.
Thank you NetGalley and the publisher for an eARC in exchange for my honest review.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
This book was amazing. I don't know how else to describe it. The Plot was engaging, and well written. I read this book over the span of 24 hours because it was that good. The atmosphere was dark and ominous. The characters were well developed and multi dimensional. And the ending had shivers running down my spine.
When I saw the tagline for Primal Animals, "Protect the Girls" coupled with the synopsis, I assumed we'd have some awesomely sapphic feminist anthem on our hands. It just... fell short of that for me, sadly. The best way I can explain most of my thoughts on this one is via the line I found over and over in my Kindle notes: "umm...okay?" That's not to say it's all bad necessarily, and I am sure it will work for some readers, but it just didn't quite hit the mark for me.
Let's start with Arlee, our main character. Arlee... I don't know anything about who Arlee is as a person. She just felt very bland to me. Maybe that is who she is, I guess, but I didn't feel very connected to her. For a chunk of the book I didn't like or dislike her, I was just fairly apathetic. I felt some sympathy for her, but that really wasn't enough. She heads off to some Privileged Kid Camp™ which in itself is a little pretentious, but she doesn't seem thrilled so points there for Arlee. She meets her cabinmates and they all seem a little leery of her, as do the others she encounters. Apparently, her mom is somewhat of an urban legend around camp, but Arlee hasn't a clue why, for no one will tell her
But she jumps into camp with both feet, which is fine, nice for her to make the best of things. But she acts, by the end of the first night, that she loves all these campers with her whole heart, and ma'am, you literally met them yesterday, so. No real explanation for the very sudden change of heart, especially when so many of the campers seem to not want to be near her.
As the summer progresses, Arlee ends up getting an invite to join some kind of secret society, which seemed a little suspicious to me, but you do you, Arlee. She begins to develop feelings for one of the girls, and that is cute, this girl seems less vapid than the others, so I approved. Their relationship was one of the parts of the story I liked, so there's that. I also will say that the whole atmosphere of the camp is on point- it feels unsavory from the start, and just devolves from there, so kudos to the author for that.
Eventually, things just take a turn for the gory and bizarre. That's really all I can say. If you want a more detailed list for trigger purposes, please do have a look: So, please understand that it is probably not for those who have trouble with gore. There is also some very casual/excessive drug use and alcohol use, which seemed a little bananas for a camp, but the Camp Powers That Be did not seem to care, so.
Basically, my biggest issue with the story was that I never understood why any of the events happened. Like- on a more basic, immediate level, some of the bad actions made sense. But the overall arc of the society doing messed up (very messed up) stuff for generations... I just never "got" it. I think on some level, it was supposed to be as... protection? Or perhaps revenge for past actions? But I don't know how much I liked that either. I mean, sure, at least there would be reasons, but I find vigilante justice to be quite a slippery slope, and in this case, way out of control.
Also, even by the end, I didn't feel like I knew Arlee any better, and I even perhaps felt less sympathetic to her due to some of her choices along the way. I didn't even really root for the relationship, mostly because I thought the love interest could do better. I could probably also mention that a lot of the side characters were rather unlikable- especially Arlee's parents, but there were a few side characters at camp that I was moderately invested in.
While the atmosphere was on point, and it definitely did deliver on horror, the characters and overall plot didn't quite work for me.
Thank you to Wednesday Books for an eARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
This was so weird.
Primal Animals follows teenage Arlee Gold who spending the summer at college prep Camp Rockaway. It's the same camp her mother went to and found lifelong friends. But Arlee is uncertain about the appeal of the camp. That is until she's unintentionally inducted into the secret cult. Is Arlee willing to go along with the bloody rituals and how far is too far?
I had a hard time getting into this one. I was constantly confused by what was happening and Arlee's motivations and character. She didn't make any sense. We're also lead to believe she might have an untreated mental illness from trauma, but this plot line is never truly addressed.
Then there was the ending. It was so abrupt and made no sense at all. Arlee solves all the problems at the camp by I really wanted to like this one, but it was confusing and by the time I started to enjoy the atmosphere, a chapter later the book ended.
Rep: white sapphic cis female MC with delusions (or something?? it's not named), white sapphic cis female side character, queer cis male side characters, various white cishet side characters.
CWs: Animal death, animal cruelty/mutilation (animals are dead but still), blood, mental illness, murder, death, panic attacks, gore, alcohol consumption, drug use (marijuana), violence, gaslighting, toxic friendship, injury/injury detail, vomit. Moderate: rape, sexual harassment, cursing, misogyny, sexism, stalking, excrement, infidelity (of parent). Minor: body shaming, self harm, fire.
Um, I'm not sure how to feel about this one. The plot of a secret society of girls was interesting to me and I wanted to know more about it and see how dark it got. I also thought Arlee and Winnie were cute and the crush was adorable. Then there are the many dead animals and descriptions of mutilation that went too far into the gross category and didn't seem that necessary to the story. I think it could have been less graphic, but I guess the author was going for a shock factor?
If the story had just focused on the society and the question of can you take justice into your own hands if the law won't do anything, I would have really loved it. I thought all the extra parts about Arlee's trauma and possible mental illness and the animal killings took this in a weird direction that I didn't enjoy. Plus, the ending is pretty unresolved and left a lot of confusion on my end. I'm not sure if it's left that way because it's a horror book without a true happy ending, or if the author wasn't sure where to go.
I voluntarily read and reviewed this book. All opinions are my own. Thank you to NetGalley, RB Media, and Wednesday Books for the copy.
Thanks to the publisher for providing an eARC of Primal Animals in exchange for an honest review.
Oh, to be a sapphic teenager bunking with your crush at a tightknit summer camp that might also be a cult.
For the most part, Primal Animals is a gripping yet campy (both literally and tonally) read. I do think the narration occasionally talks itself in circles and spells things out just a little too heavy-handedly for the teen audience its trying to reach, but it felt more like a narrative quirk then the book actually talking down to the reader.
I am not sure what the point of this book was. It had elements that could have made it interesting, mystery of what her mother did, mystery of what she did, a secret society, a blossoming love affair, but it didn't work. Yes there was some character development, but we were left hanging and for what point
Thank you Netgalley and Recorded Books (RB Media) for this advance listener copy in exchange for my honest review.
This book was interesting and different than anything I've read before. I wouldn't really classify it as horror, per se, as it has been classified. I would consider this more YA fiction or YA fantasy. There was a lot of gore, but not a lot of scares. There were no parts that had me creeped out, which is why I wouldn't lump it into the horror genre. All that being said, it was a very unique story. Also, fun fact, Arlee is a family name in my family, so I instantly related to the protagonist, Arlee. She was tough and weird, like me. I found her to be one of the most relatable characters I've read recently and she was significantly younger than me.
Arlee is dropped of at an elite summer camp by her mother. She is quickly introduced to a secret society and what happens after that is weird, violent and shocking. I won't divulge any more as I don't want to ruin the story.
There were a few questions that were left unanswered and I didn't really understand Arlee's aversion to insects, but all in all, it was really well done. The audio was fantastic. A solid 3.75 stars. It was left a little open ended, so there may be a sequel????.....
Okay, so I feel some ways about this, and pretty much none of them good. There will be spoilers here, so you’ve been warned.
I totally forgot I was supposed to be reading a YA horror novel, mainly because there’s nothing scary about it. I can see where it’s supposed to be scary, but the complete lack of tension, and building that tension, just removes any kind of horror feeling it might have. Like yeah, the secret society thing is weird. What Arlee has to do is weird. But she’s barely an active participant in her own story and all the truly weird things don’t happen to her, they happen around her and she stands on the periphery. There was a moment when Arlee first gets to camp and sees that weird horse person in the woods where I thought maybe this could get weird, but it’s a nothingburger. There is no damn tension in this book.
The incident with Arlee in the woods that she keeps referring to is never fully explained. She had some kind of breakdown after her dad left and then maybe there was some kind of pseudo-erotic moment with a deer corpse in the woods? I’m not too sure, because as the reader we only get flashes of it. And I think we’re supposed to get Arlee’s fear with the bugs, but it’s just not there for me. She completely freaks out in the most irrational ways and since she’s kind of a standoffish character to begin with, I’m just not feeling it.
Most of the story focuses on the camp itself and how idyllic it is and the parties and friendships and whatever. I’m guessing that’s supposed to juxtapose against the sinister underbelly of this secret society of the camp, something Arlee’s mom was a part of and got a scary reputation for that has been passed on to Arlee for some reason that takes waaaaaaaaaaaaaay too long to explain. The thing is, this dichotomy could have worked if things actually happened to Arlee, if she were actively involved in her own story. But she wasn’t. She gets dragged in after the fact and has to bury a body with no explanation. Then she’s required to play piano for some weird Midsommar-like ritual with another boy’s severed head. Yes, those things are creepy, but there’s zero context and Arlee’s not otherwise involved with them. They don’t happen to her, she’s not part of the act. She exists on the periphery.
Then as things finally unravel and we get answers (like 90% of the way into the story, mind you), Arlee gets very holier than thou and the story flips from unapologetic feminist to apologist feminist with Arlee going THIS IS JUST TOO FAR. Yet we know all the reasons why this secret society did all the things they did. We know them. Yet Arlee’s over here like MURDER IS NOT THE ANSWER. The story is set up for it to be the only answer, Arlee. So WTF? Am I supposed to be on Arlee’s side in the end? Like, I understand why she has the reactions that she does, because holy crap. It’s a lot. But where she took “protect the girls” only seems to be assuaging her own guilt in her complicity instead of seeing the much bigger picture of what this society is actually fighting against and how they really don’t have any other options. Like, did the author forget the story she’s writing, or does she honestly think Arlee is the hero here?
I think we’re supposed to think Caroline and Samantha are some nasty villains, and Lisha is unhinged and needs to be stopped and is actually a serial killer. Instead, I’m thinking that we got told the story from the wrong person. Lisha or Anna would have been far better protagonists and would have made a much more impactful, morally gray story. Arlee just kind of messes up the story. So much is left out because she’s not involved, and then it gets flipped on its head because she wants to be righteous and fix the situation the way she thinks it needs to be fixed. It throws everything off.
I actually really liked the voice of the book. It’s what kept me reading. That and waiting for something, anything to happen. I liked the blooming relationship between Arlee and Winnie and it pisses me off that it went absolutely nowhere. and Winnie literally just disappears. Considering we know the fate of kids that just “disppear” from this camp, it’s safe to assume Winnie didn’t leave willingly. But there are just so many missed moments and absolutely no tension occurring in this story. The fatal flaw is that Arlee is just not an active participant in any of it. She’s dragged through the story kicking and screaming, and what could rightly be an uncomfortable revenge story takes a turn into self-righteousness, telling the reader that there are some things that are just too far. It felt underhanded moralizing at the end, and the more I think about it, the more I sneer.
If you want a true, unapologetic feminist revenge story that will make you feel really uncomfortable in all the right ways, read FOUL IS FAIR by Hannah Capin. That book doesn’t try to back over itself and tell you it’s gone too far. It’s not YA horror, but it’s YA thriller and worth every page. PRIMAL ANIMALS is just a wet blanket told from the wrong main character, in a story where very little happens, and then it seems like the author had a crisis of conscience at the end and tries to flip everything around. Except all that happens is we get a seemingly self-aggrandizing character who can’t see beyond the end of her own nose. We get an author setting us up to side with this secret feminist society, only to flick our noses at the end and go ‘ah ah ah’ THAT is not the answer and it just feels gross.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
thanks Netgalley for an e-arc in exchange for an honest review Primal Animals is a young adult horror book. It's also very queer in a casual way which I was happy to see. The main character is in a sapphic relationship and there's lots of other LGBT+ side characters. This follows Arlee as she starts at a summer camp her mother went too. She gets sucked into a cult there. This book is face-paced, I read it in one sitting. Arlee is a good representation of a 16 year old who is self-conscious and struggling from anxiety. I love how despite this, her character was also strong and fiery. I knew I'd love this book when Arlee's fear of bugs is shown from the first page. I don't think I've ever actually seen my own fear represented in a book this way and I immediately connected with Arlee because of it. However, huge TW for bugs, panic attacks, blackmail, murder, and gore.
Primal Animals has all of the elements of a good horror novel: rich kids at an elite camp, secret societies, family legacies, creepy rituals, murder. But it never quite comes together--the timeline is too short, and doesn't allow characters, discussions, or events to occur at a realistic pace, and the abruptness and unexplained-ness of character actions and changes keeps things from making sense. The queer romance is sweet, but feels almost tacked on, and the multitude of non-sequiturs in camper and adult behavior make for more of a mess than a chilling narrative.
The premise of Primal Animals is compelling. Mysterious, cultish happenings at a summer college prep camp, a camp at which protagonist Arlee Gold’s mother has a notorious reputation? And make it sapphic? Sign me up. Unfortunately, the promise in the premise of Primal Animals falls extremely short in execution, and left me by turn confused and unintentionally amused.
Generously, this novel was… not for me, despite a general enjoyment of queer horror. All of the elements felt incredibly disjointed from one another, leading to a bumpy reading experience. There is a lot of telling versus showing within the text, both in the present day as Arlee attends the summer camp and in flashbacks as Arlee reflects upon the various experiences that led to the present day. There’s a whole subplot about piano lessons that I’m still, days after finishing, struggling to contextualize within the rest of the novel.
Because of all the telling, it feels like there is almost no build up from ‘anxious girl at sleepaway camp’ to ‘excuse me, she pulled WHAT out of a bag at an all-camp meeting’. The gross or horrific elements felt way out of context and thus lost some of their narrative impact for me.
The events in this novel also cross the line from dramatic to overdramatic for my personal threshold. The big reveal of Arlee’s closely guarded secret feels way out of proportion to the trauma it was a response to; likewise, the escalation of the secret societies activities seems intended to have served a greater feminist/girl power narrative, but given the lack of development, feels ungrounded and confusing.
What I struggled the most with was that, after all of this drama and a horrific chain of events… there are no consequences? Not really, and not meaningful ones. The novel ends abruptly on another tell-not-show summary of what happens after camp concludes, which makes it feel vastly unearned and unsatisfying.
All that aside, the prose was solid and there were many genuinely raw/visceral/compelling lines and passages throughout; emotional tone was conveyed well. The sapphic romance was the saving grace of this book to me, because although it too felt a bit underbaked, there was definitely chemistry between Arlee and the love interest. Then again, a note in the tell-not-show ending left a sour taste in my mouth regarding that too.
All in all, Primal Animals was unfortunately not for me, as the excellent concept didn’t live up to its promises. There are many other favourable reviews, so chances are if you are really into the concept of a creepy summer camp with a side of sapphic romance, you could enjoy this more than I did.
Thank you to Wednesday Books and NetGalley for an advance review copy. All opinions are my own.