All Animals Living and Free
An amusing contemporary adventure featuring two young animal activists and bursting with linguistic delights
When 11-year-old Gijs discovers that his tough classmate Dietie has lured him into a secret animal liberation organisation, he feels that his life finally has meaning. If someone reads his diary in a hundred years’ time, they’ll surely think, “Stuttering stars and stoats, what an amaaaazing life!”
Mariken Jongman writes with great verve, freshness and wit. We already knew that from her stimulating adolescent novels like De opmerkelijke observaties van Rits (published in English as Rits) and *Kiek *(Kiki), but this book is simply fizzing and bubbling with the delight that Jongman takes in language. “He went racing, rushing and whooshing down the road,” she says as Gijs tears through the village on a moped at night. His excitement jumps off the page. Dietie’s gran’s house is full of the “lip-licking, mouth-drooling aroma” of freshly baked cookies and Dietie looks at Gijs “ice-cubically”.
The rebellious Dietie is a passionate animal rights activist: “Murdered animals, chopped into pieces. They call it meat.” What she’d really like to do is liberate every animal in captivity. That message is clear, but Jongman ensures that the book doesn’t become overly dogmatic by telling the story from Gijs’s point of view. Gijs has never thought too seriously about animal welfare. He loves animals, but he doesn’t instantly become a vegetarian and he also has his doubts about the effectiveness of Dietie’s plans. When it looks like Dietie’s about to go too far, Gijs comes up with a new idea to raise awareness of animal cruelty.
And yet activism does not form the core of the book. It’s actually more about friendship, trust and betrayal. And about a boy who’s on the cusp of puberty. Being considered “suitable” to take part in secret nocturnal activities matters more to Gijs than the actual cause itself. It makes him feel, for the first time, that he has a life of his own, independent of adults. The way Gijs suddenly starts calling his parents by their first names and referring to them as “those people” is beautifully observed: “Weird… ‘those people’. Gijs had never thought that way about his mum and dad before. Because they weren’t people, they were parents.”