West with Giraffes: A Novel
by Lynda Rutledge
Paperback- $12.99

An emotional, rousing novel inspired by the incredible true story of two giraffes who made headlines and won the hearts of Depression-era ...

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  "West with Giraffes" by StaceyManos (see profile) 02/15/21

This light, enjoyable book is hard to put down. It’s historical fiction told in a lovely way. Brings up some good, relevant conversation starters Loved it.

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  "" by bibliosara (see profile) 11/08/22

In a beautifully written ode to life, to youth, to mistakes, to hope, Rutledge marks her spot as an inspired author. A tiny piece of history comes to vibrant life in West with Giraffes, an adventure following a teenage boy on the verge of becoming a man in the middle of the heartbreaking desperation of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl. Woodrow Wilson Nickel - more commonly known as Woody - is struggling at 105 to remember his youthful adventure across the country with a pair of wonderfully exotic creatures… but something tells him its critical that he does. So he begins to write his story… it all begins with a hurricane that tosses the simultaneously powerful, hardy, and unbelievably fragile pair of young giraffes that will forever change Woody's life. As characters from his past haunt his memories, Woody is transported back in time. Transported back to driving a group of unlikely characters across a broken and ravaged country, trauma from his hometown coming unexpectedly nearer by the mile.
Rutledge's story doesn't just tell Woody's story, or the story of the Hurricane Giraffes - she tells the story of a country fighting to hope amidst the worst times. She tells of Black hotels, of newly paved mountain roads, of ramshackle trucks and of hopeless hearts finding second chances. She tells the story of us all, and we find that the love we find for Woody and the giraffes encapsulates the love we have for our unlimited potential in this life. Fear and hope intermingle in this tenuous race to save giraffes… and one boy hungry for a home.

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  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 04/19/23

Such a sweet, wonderful story!

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  "Based on a true event, a heart pounding coming of age story" by [email protected] (see profile) 06/01/23

This actual event bringing two giraffes, who had already survived the 1938 hurricane on the east coast of the US, across the country to the San Diego zoo, was a true adventure for the reader. It captured my imagination on so many levels as 18 year old Woodrow "Woody" Wilson Nickle, lands a job driving the animals with the Old Man, an employee of the zoo caring for the giraffes. Woody recalls this heart-poundingly journey as a present day 100 yr old man in a long term care facility. It is clear that he is hallucinating as he talks to Girl, the female giraffe, who he imagines is poking her nose into his 5th story window as he writes. But despite his growing health issues, he is determined to put the story down on paper so that the story doesn't get lost, though it seems he is writing it down for someone in particular.

On the heels of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and the rumblings of Hitler in Europe, the public is craving something sweet and positive, and that is what happens as these giraffes pass through town after town across the country. For a moment, these animals put a smile on sad and desperate faces. But the adventure is not without complications and this is the crux of the book. As the men travel, they run into everything from flash floods, treacherous mountain passes, bears but also despicable men who will try to steal their precious cargo. Young Woody learns more about himself on the drive from east coast to the west coast as he undertakes being responsible for these animals and comes to understand them but also their connection with him. It is so charming that he appreciates their displays of affection as they interact with him. The reader learns about his life growing up in the panhandle of Texas and how the dust and upheaval of his family's farm during that desperate time, plagued him. Riley Jones, aka, the Old Man, is a cantankerous, gruff character, though he does have a soft spot, especially when it comes to his "darlings" as he calls his cargo. He has a job to do and will stop at nothing to make sure they get safely into the zoo. The relationship between Woody and Jones grows into a mentorship though not the father/son type relationship I expected would happen by the end of their trip. In fact, the end was totally unexpected and a bit unsatisfying in a way.
There is also one other traveler on the cross-country trip-- Augusta, a 20 year old photojournalist, who drives a green Packard and "works" for Life magazine. She and her camera capture the journey moment by moment. Woody's young inexperienced heart is smitten with her as she smoothly insinuates herself into getting access to the giraffes and she easily becomes Woody's first crush. As he watches out the back window to keep an eye on the "darlings," he is also keeping an eye out for Red and her Packard. After all, women, you know, shouldn't be traveling alone! It's not safe and it's not seemly! But Augusta has some secrets that are slowly revealed as the story rolls along.

I liked how this story, told in two time lines, evolves and piques with their often dangerous trek to "Californy." Woody's story as a centenarian isn't as interesting as his younger version however, it made me think about how we forget that the people who are living in nursing homes, who seem frail and maybe suffering with memory issues, have had a past, with amazing stories that might never be told and could be lost forever. If present day Woody never told his story, this 12 day journey in 1938, might have been lost for all time.

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