Historical fiction

The Zookeeper of Belfast by S. Kirk Walsh

I read a thematic sequence of books and intended to write a post showing the links, but I have left it too long and might not get to it. This book is thematically a lot like West with Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge

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This book was not like the recent others I have read on this theme. It is historical fiction based on actual facts and WWII in Belfast. Our lead protagonist is Hettie ( the eponymous zookeeper), a girl grieving losses in her family and wanting to further her career at the Zoo that she works in.
There is a lot to unpack in the narrative: We have Hettie trying to find her place in the world, sort out her feelings for her mother and their life, figure out how to survive in such a turbulent time and finally (and unfortunately, a lot of time is devoted to this), her love life. The first and last may seem to be the same topic, but they are dealt with differently, and thus the distinction arose in my mind. I am not claiming that a girl on the cusp of womanhood and starting to live her own life would not have her mind occupied with boys and her feelings for those around her, but in this case, the way it was presented was not very palatable( to me), it took away from the emotional complexities of the rest of her life. It had some heart-rending moments when it came to the animals. The care of them did grab my attention.
The Zoo’s animals, the man in charge of the Zoo and the actual owner all drift in and out of the story, and each has a pretty compelling role that is not explored to the extent I hoped. It is not a bad story by any means; I just hoped for a different focus. The story of a struggling female zookeeper would have been way more to my taste than of a girl trying to figure out who she is attracted to and why. It is set in difficult times, and people’s conflicting thought processes in the same town were fascinating. I did learn something about a new place in a given time in history, it was easy reading for the most part, and I am glad I picked it up.
I received an ARC thanks to NetGalley and the publishers, but the review is entirely based on my own reading experience.

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