Only R.L. Maizes would have thought to combine burglary with animal empaths. And she does just that in her sparkling, feel-good novel, Other People’s Pets. (Publishing on 14 July 2020.) I loved her 2019 short story collection, so I’m not surprised I feel the same way about this book.
At the center of this story is La La (short for Louise) Fine, a young woman in veterinary school. She lives with her chiropractor fiancé, and dotes on her dogs, Black and Blue. Then her dad gets arrested at work, which is burglary. La La needs solutions to the legal and bail bond costs. And she needs them yesterday.
In addition to spinning the web La La is currently caught in, Maizes also jumps back to her childhood. And a unique one it was. La La’s mom left the family when she was just a kid, after an accident involving a lake, thin ice, and a black Lab. On that day, young La La realizes she’s an animal empath, meaning she can feel what a nearby animal is feeling. Coincidentally, this makes her the perfect assistant for her dad’s burglary endeavors.
So, as we switch from past to current day, La La grapples with how to help her dad. She also find that the ache for her mother has reached a fever pitch. Suddenly, she stands to add the loss of her dad’s presence to her already absent mother. The potential orphan pain is a strong motivator. Plus, La La and her sweetie are at odds on the best way to help her dad. All of a sudden, La La’s primary relationships start heading south.
It sounds like La La is a hot mess, right? And she is. Even so, Maizes keeps it funny and light and, for me, that makes it a great book. She never shies away from the intense emotions—loss, fear, loneliness. Still, the writing is so gentle and warm that I never got depressed. Instead, everything pushed me to root for LaLa like my life depended on it. As a result, I sped through this medium-length book like a burglar running from the scene of the crime.
The supporting characters are strong, especially the BFF, sweetie, papa, and pets. This is a perfect book for animal lovers. The creatures in La La’s life add so much joy to this reading experience.
Maizes keeps the two timelines—current and past—moving swiftly along and coordinated in their themes. There’s no artifice in distinguishing between the story lines. La La is a thinker, analyzing events and feelings because past and future are colliding.
Maizes could have turned this into an overly sweet and schmaltzy story. It isn’t even slightly close to that saccharine possibility. It’s just good old-fashioned crisp and crackling good writing. I’ll be thinking about La La and her life for a while to come.
I recommend this if you like character studies with feeling and an absorbing, fast-moving plot. It’d also make a good summer book club book, if your group hasn’t already chosen for the next few months.
Many thanks to NetGalley, Celadon Books, and the author for the opportunity to read a digital advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.