When I was a new teenager with caring but clueless parents, I used to ride my bike to crazy places on Connecticut’s hilly back roads. Older boys reckless with their shiny drivers licenses, considered those narrow roads their personal racetracks, small wildlife be damned. (I was positive they had cheated on their driver’s tests.) It would upset me so much to come upon a small animal that had been killed that I felt compelled to dismount, to find the fallen branches I’d need to gently move the little body to the woods that edged the road. There, I’d make a soft bed for it in the undergrowth, then cover it carefully with fallen leaves, saying how sorry I was, that it was a good animal. I cried often back then.
And while now I don’t stop my car in the middle of roads to move bodies, I still silently mouth how sorry I am when I see one. I don’t want animals hurt or suffering, it’s really that simple. If you’ve read my blog or my only nonfiction book (Where The Trail Grows Faint: A Year In the Life Of A Therapy Dog Team), you know how I am about my dogs, always rescues. I’ve always had a great interest in the human/animal connection, the meaningful bond between species and the healing power of that love.
But now, I also want to understand and respect the bonds other animals have within their own species that we humans often seem to disregard. This led me to think more deeply about communication in general, verbal and non-verbal. That, of course, brought me to sign language, too. I had a lot to learn. These were the questions that led me to write The Language of Kin. I wanted to create a dramatic story that would, through characters and action, show how we all struggle to communicate in different ways—how brilliantly we devise ways to succeed, how dismally we sometimes fail.
The novel will be published on July 11 (available for pre-order now!–more about why this is so helpful to a book another time). The story opens with a brief scene to let you know how Eve was captured as a still-nursing baby in Uganda, but it doesn’t linger there. Although there are short sections about her life during the years before she is finally transported to the Dayton, Ohio zoo (fictitious–there’s no zoo in Dayton), it quickly introduces you to the main human characters: primate expert Kate, who’s the Assistant Primate Curator, and Marc, one of the zookeepers in the primate department, and a rising star. We quickly learn that their beliefs about zoos couldn’t be farther apart: with the arrival of a traumatized chimp who needs to be integrated into the existing troop, a clash is inevitable. And clash they do. But, of course, in a novel that’s looking at communication as well as animal welfare, there needed to be something that also connected them, even might come to make them need each other.
So…Kate’s mother is in a retirement community. But she can’t stay in assisted living; it’s too dangerous for someone with primary aphasia. She has no dementia, but she’s lost the use of words and can’t process what staff tell or ask her. Marc’s mother is deaf and, for reasons in her own history, unwilling to become independent, as most deaf people learn to be.
And there’s an autistic zoo trainee, about whom all the staff care a lot.
What happens when there’s a life-threatening crisis at the zoo–at the same time that Kate’s own life is at a breaking point?
I hope you’ll order this novel and find out. Here’s what author Katrina Kittle (Morning In This Broken World, coming in June!) said: “…Hugo’s words are beautiful, but this riveting story shows us how words can often fail and forces us to see the many other ways we communicate. This novel is an emotional read, full of page-turning highs and cathartic sorrows. I fell in love with this complicated, compelling cast, human and otherwise.”
Now–since you’re here anyway, and thank you from my heart for that, I’d love it if you’d look at the navigation bar at the very top of this page and click on Home. That will take you right to my newly updated website where you can see what more authors have said and also, by clicking “About the novel” on that Home page, read the first couple of chapters of the novel. Also, you can click on “Behind The Scenes,” where you can read the rest of what led me into this novel, plus see gorgeous pictures of Eve the chimp’s first home in Uganda. (How could I not ask a dear photographer friend who went on a photo safari there late in 2022 if she’d let me display some? I think you’ll love Elizabeth G Brooke’s work as much as I do.)
Here are a couple of questions for you to answer in the comments section below: how do you like the cover? And…if you do go to the “About the novel” page of my website, does any one of the quotes from other authors attract you most? (It helps to know because the publisher can only feature one quote in advertising–this is why I’m asking your reaction.) You can also, always, ask me any questions. I respond to each comment.
Thank you, thank you!