When Tallulah Jones was thirteen, her grandmother plucked her from the dank Oakland apartment she shared with her unreliable mom and brought her to the family ostrich ranch in the Mojave Desert. After eleven years caring for the curious, graceful birds, Tallulah accepts a job in Montana and prepares to leave home. But when Grandma Helen dies under strange circumstances, Tallulah inherits everything—just days before the birds inexplicably stop laying eggs.
Guarding the secret of the suddenly barren birds, Tallulah endeavors to force through a sale of the ranch, a task that is complicated by the arrival of her extended family. Their designs on the property, and deeply rooted dysfunction, threaten Tallulah’s ambitions and eventually her life. With no options left, Tallulah must pull her head out of the sand and face the fifty-year legacy of a family in turmoil: the reality of her grandmother's death, her mother's alcoholism, her uncle's covetous anger, and the 142 ostriches whose lives are in her hands.
“Vivid…uplifting…The fascinating details of operating an ostrich ranch elevate this family tale.”
“Tension mounts in every chapter, and when the difficult forces converge in the satisfying climax, Tallulah discovers clarity. This is an enjoyable, winning, interesting novel for readers of many backgrounds.”
—Booklist (starred review)
“A story told with depth and beauty about the many things we inherit from our families. Dávila’s characters are familiar, yet unforgettable, and I’m waiting patiently for what she writes next.”
—Wayétu Moore, author of She Would Be King
Praise For 142 Ostriches…
—Mark Sarvas, author of Memento Park
“An engrossing and original tale of love, betrayal, and extremely large birds, April Dávila's 142 Ostriches is a novel that blooms like springtime in the California desert. Fiercely independent, brave, and tender, Tallulah Jones is a heroine for our time.”
—Seth Greenland, author of The Hazards of Good Fortune
“Vividly imagined and deeply felt, 142 Ostriches is an utterly absorbing tale of an intrepid young woman coming of age in the California desert. I loved Davila’s big-hearted debut about land, family, and the ties that bind. Highly recommended.”
—Lindsey Lee Johnson, author of The Most Dangerous Place on Earth
“142 Ostriches is unlike anything I’ve read before. Wholly unique, this cinematic novel exposes readers to the relatively unknown industry of ostrich farming. In Davila’s skillful hands, the desert comes alive and the ostriches are as compelling as the human characters. Tallulah herself is a memorable, strong-willed protagonist. Her struggle to negotiate family obligations with her own desires feels both singular and highly relatable. I loved following her through the pages of this fast-paced and lovely novel.”
—Amy Meyerson, author of The Bookshop of Yesterdays
“April Davila has made the rare thing: The perfect meeting of plot and character. A hurtling adventure of family intrigue helmed by a heroine for the ages, Davila's novel will make your heart swell as big as an ostrich egg, and then hatch it.”
—Katie Williams, author of Tell The Machine Goodnight
“Davila’s observant prose conjures the drama of sun-scorched days and the calm of cool painted evenings as it chronicles the struggles and rewards of a rugged life in the vast Mohave. This is a story that envelops you with a sense of place, and uses its setting to reveal how the human heart, like wildflowers after a rampaging storm, can thrive in the harshest conditions. It is a tale as surprising and delightful as a profusion of florid color in the sandy stretches of the California desert.”
—Yvonne Puig, author of A Wife of Nobel Character
“142 Ostriches, April Davila’s utterly unique novel, nails the Zeitgeist when she inherits a Death Valley bird ranch she’d hoped to escape. An avian Greek chorus, the birds seem to observe and share her longing to stand in a place of my own choosing. With unsentimental acuity, her narrator confronts the intangible covenant foisted upon her, and the reality that the disposal of her flock, from nature to product, is by no means a matter just for the birds.”
—Rita Williams, author of If the Creek Don’t Rise
“An unusual ranching tale set in the Mojave Desert, where the herd is a flock of eight foot tall birds and their wrangler a young woman raised by her gruff grandmother who dreams of another kind of life. A twisty, warmhearted story of family, community and fate, a thoroughgoing delight.”
—Janet Fitch, author of The Revolution of Marina M and Chimes of a Lost Cathedral
“Compelling and beautifully written — you need to read this book.”
—Erin La Rosa, author of The Big Redhead Book and Womanskills
Kensington, 9781496724700, 272pp.
Publication Date: February 25, 2020
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. Consider the role of men in this story. What kind of partner do you think Tallulah will end up with?
2. Why do you think the birds stop laying eggs?
3. Why is Tallulah so reluctant to share her inheritance?
4. How has substance abuse affected the Jones family?
5. Is Tallulah a good person?
6. In what ways is Sombra like other small towns? In what ways is it different?
7. How would the story be different if it were told from Uncle Steve’s perspective? What about Aunt Christine’s perspective?
8. One of the main themes of the story is motherhood. Consider how Tallulah’s mom, Aunt Christine and Grandma Helen differ in their mothering styles. What are the repercussions of their parenting?
9. How would the story be different on another type of ranch? A cattle ranch? Chickens?
10. What’s your opinion of Laura’s whiskey glass theory?