A bold, riveting debut novel of desire, betrayal, and loss, centering on three teenage girls, a horse ranch, and the tragic accident that changes everything.
Rory Ramos works as a ranch hand at the stable her stepfather manages in Topanga Canyon, California, a dry, dusty place reliant on horses and hierarchies. There she rides for the rich clientele, including twins June and Wade Fisk. While Rory may have unwittingly drawn the interest of out-and-proud June, she’s more intrigued by Vivian Price, the beautiful teenager with the movie-star father who lives down the hill. Rory’s blue-collar upbringing keeps her largely separate from the likes of the Prices—but, perched on her bedroom windowsill, Rory steals glimpses of Vivian swimming in her pool nearly every night.
After Rory’s stepfather is involved in a tragic car accident, the lives of Rory, June, and Vivian become inextricably bound together. Rory discovers photography, begins riding more competitively alongside June, and grows closer and closer to gorgeous, mercurial Vivian, but despite her newfound sense of self, disaster lurks all around her: in the parched landscape, in her unruly desires, in her stepfather's wrecked body and guilty conscience. One night, as the relationships among these teenagers come to a head, a forest fire tears through Topanga Canyon, and Rory's life is changed forever.
Kept Animals is narrated by Rory’s daughter, Charlie, twenty years after that fateful 1993 fire. Realizing that the key to her own existence lies in the secret of what really happened that unseasonably warm fall, Charlie is finally ready to ask questions about her mother’s past. But with Rory away on assignment as a war photographer, Charlie knows she must unravel the truth for herself.
Kate Milliken is the author of the 2013 Iowa Short Fiction Award–winning collection of stories, If I’d Known You Were Coming. A graduate of the Bennington College Writing Seminars, she has received fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center and the Tin House Summer Workshop. She lives in Northern California with her family. Kept Animals is her first novel.
“Kept Animals is a darkly beautiful book, tender yet powerful, an exquisite exploration of hurt and desire, the why of wanting, taking and giving. And Kate Milliken knows her stuff when it comes to horses.” —Jeannette Walls, author of The Glass Castle and Half Broke Horses
“With precise and sensuous prose, so gorgeous it's gasp-inducing, Kept Animals tells an epic story of loss, identity, and that which binds—and unravels—a community. Milliken's unforgettable characters face dangers of all kinds, be it familial, romantic, or of the natural world. To experience, as a reader, this mysterious, mesmerizing, and menacing pocket of Southern California is a true pleasure and thrill. Kate Milliken has talent to burn. I love this novel.” —Edan Lepucki, author of California
“What do you get when you add horses, heat, teenagers, violence, alcohol, love, class, competition, fame, and desire to a raw California landscape? You get one giant conflagration of a debut novel. Kate Milliken has written an epic coming-of-age story of three young women whose families are falling apart just as they are beginning to recognize their own sexual power. Dangerous and dark, sexy and haunting, glamorous and gritty, Kept Animals is a book you’ll read as if it’s on fire.” —Eleanor Henderson, author of The Twelve-Mile Straight and Ten Thousand Saints
“Kept Animals is a searing, beautifully written look at a place, a time, and a community set along the fault lines of class, race, climate, and coincidence. This novel will stay with me for a long time.” —Lydia Kiesling, author of The Golden State