March 11, 2021

My March Book Review: 'West With Giraffes' by Lynda Rutledge (and a giveaway!!)

I'm doing a Friends-themed read-athon for 2021, and each month there is a different "Friends-based" theme to choose a book. This month, the theme was "The One With the Chick and the Duck"--we were to choose a book that had an animal in it.

This was kind of tough for me, because the books I read typically don't have animals in them. I remembered that I had gotten a book recently from Amazon's First Reads about an elephant or giraffe or something. Amazon First Reads is where you can choose from a short list once a month to get a book for free. I read through the books for that month and just could't decide... honestly, NONE of them looked good to me. 

I eventually just chose the one called 'West With Giraffes', by Lynda Rutledge. I wasn't excited about reading it, but I wanted to stick with the theme.

West With Giraffes review

Imagine my surprise, then, when I read the very first sentence of the prologue and I was hooked immediately. I loved the poetic, whimsical play with the words. (If you're not into that, don't worry--it's really only in the prologue.)

"Woodrow Wilson Nickel died in the year 2025, on a usual day, in the unusual way, at the rather unusual age of 105.

A century and a nickel."

I will start by saying that the second I finished this book, I moved it into the Top 3 books I've ever read. THAT'S how good it is! I have to say, though, that no matter what I write on this post, it won't do justice to this book. You need to read it yourself!

Here is the description from the publisher:

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

“Few true friends have I known and two were giraffes…”

Woodrow Wilson Nickel, age 105, feels his life ebbing away. But when he learns giraffes are going extinct, he finds himself recalling the unforgettable experience he cannot take to his grave.

It’s 1938. The Great Depression lingers. Hitler is threatening Europe, and world-weary Americans long for wonder. They find it in two giraffes who miraculously survive a hurricane while crossing the Atlantic. What follows is a twelve-day road trip in a custom truck to deliver Southern California’s first giraffes to the San Diego Zoo. Behind the wheel is the young Dust Bowl rowdy Woodrow. Inspired by true events, the tale weaves real-life figures with fictional ones, including the world’s first female zoo director, a crusty old man with a past, a young female photographer with a secret, and assorted reprobates as spotty as the giraffes.

Part adventure, part historical saga, and part coming-of-age love story, West with Giraffes explores what it means to be changed by the grace of animals, the kindness of strangers, the passing of time, and a story told before it’s too late."

The description kind of lost me because of the historical references--I'm NOT a history buff and I was afraid I'd be bored reading it. But I would call this book a historical adventure with several parts that will keep your heart racing.

The story is told by a man living his last days in a nursing home as he writes his story. It reminded me of The Green Mile (movie) where Tom Hanks' character is ridiculously old and he tells the whole story of The Green Mile to a woman at the nursing home where he lives.

The synopsis of the book sounded ordinary to me, and I can't say I was excited to read it. But I got caught up in it so quickly that I couldn't stop.

No spoilers here...

Woody Wilson is a 17-year old boy from the Texas Panhandle in the 1930's. His parents and baby sister died in the Dust Bowl and Woody makes his way to New York City to find his only known/living relative, Cuz. He has no money, no possessions, and no real direction for his life.

In 1938, there was a terrible hurricane that caused massive destruction to New York. Woody happens to be standing nearby when a cargo ship that had two giraffes aboard (who were bound for the San Diego Zoo), arrives at shore after disastrous damage to the ship. One of the giraffes is hurt and the cage is crushed around her. A man from the zoo shows up to drive the giraffes across the country to the zoo, and that's where the whole adventure begins.

Woody has heard all about "Californy" and his dream is to go there and start a new glamorous life. He plots to try to follow the giraffes to California, which proves more difficult than he hoped. But he doesn't give up.

I really wish the book had included a photo of the truck that the giraffes were driven in, but I found this one online. It's not at all what I pictured, but it's cool to see!

West With Giraffes truck photo
An actual photo of the truck that the giraffes were driven across the country on.

I'll stop here, because I don't want to give anything away. But this book is VERY adventurous and kept me on my toes the entire time.

My sister doesn't want to read it because she's worried about animal cruelty, so I'll write a little about that here. I can't stand reading about animal cruelty, but this book is overall a feel-good adventure story. These aren't major spoilers, but I'll write the couple of things that you may want to know if you're worried about animal cruelty... So I'll give a SPOILER WARNING HERE. 

If you want to skip over it, just skip to the horizontal line break.

I will start out by spoiling the ending (kind of) and saying that the animals arrive safely in San Diego. Other than the female hurting her leg in the hurricane, they are uninjured.

There is a part where a circus tries to steal the giraffes and the giraffes are panicking. The circus people aren't being gentle, and wrangle the female with a rope, but she is uninjured when all is said and done.

A couple of moments are flashbacks from Woody's childhood where his dad teaches him about animals and that they are "just animals" (basically worthless for anything that can't be beneficial to humans.

"I knew all about animals. Some you worked, some you milked, some you ate, some you shot, and that was that. You learned early not to make a pig a pal or your pa would soon be forcing you to thank Jesus for the blessing of eating everything but its squeal."

There is a part where they come across a gas station with a "zoo" in the middle of nowhere in the desert, and the man who owns it is cruel to his "attractions"--a bear, a rattlesnake, a tiger (?), and some rabbits. He grabs a rabbit and drops it onto the cage of the tiger, who eats it right away. 

Finally, the last thing I can think of is that Woody describes his last day at home in Texas, where his father forced him to put down his horse with a rifle. It's a little hard to read, but it's a memory of Woody's, rather than happening in real time, which makes it a little easier.

Overall, I don't think that the subject of animal cruelty is present enough in this book to keep anyone from reading it. It has a happy ending.

Okay, no more spoilers. I am not a history buff and reading about history bores me, but there are some interesting factual events in this book (like the Dust Bowl in Texas and the New England Hurricane). Forrest Gump is my very favorite movie, and the best part about it is how he manages to be in the center of all sorts of historical events. This book kind of reminded me of that.

This book is AMAZING and it's one of those books that you just can't forget. It really sticks with you. I would recommend this book to pretty much anyone--from about 12 years old and up, whether you're an "animal person" or not, or interested in history or not. I especially think that teen boys would really like it. I'm going to try to convince my kids to read it--they don't like to take suggestions from their mom, because I'm so uncool ;)

I'm SO glad that I picked it out for my First Reads book. Because I loved this book so much, I bought a paperback copy to give to my dad, and I'd also like to buy a Kindle copy to give away to one of you! (It can be read with the Kindle app on any device.)

To enter the giveaway, just fill out this form below. And if you end up buying a copy, I'd be grateful if you used this link (it's an Amazon affiliate link, which just means that I may get a small commission for linking to it--but it doesn't cost you any more).

I will draw a winner for the giveaway on March 19th at 9:00 AM ET and notify the winner by email. 

ETA: Ugh, this form wasn't working because I forgot to change the permissions last night. But I just updated it and it's working now! Sorry.


  1. It sounds like a really interesting book! FYI - the Google form doesn't appear to be working. I see a message that, "This form can only be viewed by users in the owner's organization."

  2. I got this book as one of the amazon first reads as well but I hadn't started it yet because like you I wasn't sure I was going to like it even though I love animals but I thought it would bother me with what happens with the animals and that it may be too historical. Thanks for the review, I'm definitly going to read it now!

  3. This book sounds really interesting! I appreciate the opportunity to win a copy! I also really appreciate your review with the animal notes. I too cannot read a book or watch a movie or anything involving animal cruelty/death. It just hurts so much, animals are so innocent!

  4. Sounds like a great read. Thanks!

  5. I just checked and I got that book as a first reads book also, I will have to add it to my good reads list so I remember I own it.

  6. Thanks. I'm like your sister. I'm about a third of the way through and really enjoying it. I started getting worried about something terrible happening to the giraffes so I thought I'd check for spoilers. After reading this,I'm ready to finish


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