Primal Animals

Primal Animals by Julia Lynn Rubin is a jarring thriller about protecting one another. Arlee Gold is attending the camp her mother was practically raised in, but things are not how they seem.
All quotes are from an advanced reader copy, and may or may not reflect the published edition.

Rating: 2 out of 5.
From Goodreads:
Arlee Gold is anxious about spending the summer at the college prep Camp Rockaway—the same camp her mother attended years ago, which her mother insists will help give Arlee a “fresh start” and will “change her life.” Little does Arlee know that, once she steps foot on the manicured grounds, this will prove to be true in horrifying ways.
Even though the girls in her cabin are awesome—and she’s developing a major crush on the girl who sleeps in the bunk above her—the other campers seem to be wary of Arlee, unwilling to talk to her or be near her, which only ramps up her paranoia. When she’s tapped to join a strange secret society, Arlee thinks this will be her shot at fitting in…until her new “sisters” ask her to do the unthinkable, putting her life, and the life of her new crush, in perilous danger.

Protect the girls,

Kill the boys for they must die,

They have made all the sweet girls cry.

Primal Animals feels like an attempt to be a fever dream horror. One of those “I’m not sure what’s going on but the vibes are good and I’m scared!” books. The atmosphere is perfect for it, a camp that has a secret society and girls who have attended it for years. The deep interpersonal relationships that a newcomer simply wouldn’t understand. And of course, teenage girls make for perfect characters in these kinds of books. Yet, something about this book missed the mark when it came to that atmosphere-based horror.

They say this is where good girls go to die. Too bad I’ve never been a good girl.

Arlee Gold has something in her past that’s hinted at, repeatedly. She’s done something terrifying, that worries her mother. There are hints at her mental health not being the greatest, and that maybe she sees things that aren’t always there. You’d think this would be an interesting addition to a story like this, except that…it really wasn’t. The way it was blended into the story never seemed to make sense, and not even in a beneficial way. It didn’t add to the atmosphere, and mostly I was annoyed every time it happened. It didn’t seem to really play a role in the full story, which further made me question the point.

I am wicked. I am sinful. Yet I feel things that aren’t.

There is an instalove/instant-crush situation, that even our main character notes is unrealistic and absurd. She spends a lot of time in the first half of this book trying to dismiss the crush due to how fast it happens but then decides that camp time is different. Perhaps it is, but this still was an interesting shift. The characters in this story all felt more or less uninteresting to me, despite the actions that they take. They spend a lot of time telling you about themselves, and not simply being themselves. This feels like half-hearted writing, and I didn’t really care about anyone because of it.

She’s only seen the half of what I can be. I show my fangs when I open my mouth to flash her a smile.

You’re probably wondering why I haven’t really mentioned the horror, and that’s because…well, the horror didn’t come until a bit later in the book. And when it did, it almost felt jarring in how out of place it was. There was hinting, but the shift from subtle to extreme was too fast. The pacing of the entire thing was off, and I didn’t really find myself able to connect with or care about what happened to anyone here. A bit of a spoiler here, but am I supposed to genuinely feel bad that a boy who stalked a girl and used his money to manipulate her was killed? Because I don’t. As a victim of stalking, I don’t particularly feel the camp should have had the cops called on them if all they were doing was taking care of boys who would otherwise get by with…well, murder.

When everything unravels, time starts to slow.

I really wanted to enjoy this book more. However, this wavered back and forth too much between the logical and illogical, making it hard to know what the book was attempting to do. I enjoyed the plot, at its core, but the execution missed the mark for me. The attempt at making me feel bad for boys, or, that the girls were wrong for protecting themselves was missed on me as well.
Thank you to Netgalley and Wednesday Books for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.