Novel from W. W. Norton
March 2024

Bad Animals

A sexy, propulsive novel that confronts the limits of empathy and the perils of appropriation through the eyes of a disgraced small-town librarian.

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Bad Animals
Buy Now
Bad Animals


Now that her brilliant daughter is off at college, buttoned-up Maeve Cosgrove loves her job at her quiet Maine public library more than anything. But when a teenager accuses Maeve—Maeve!—of spying on her romantic escapades in the mezzanine bathroom, she winds up laid off and humiliated. While Maeve attempts to clear her name, her favorite author, Harrison Riddles, finally responds to her invitation to speak at the library. Riddles announces a plan to write a novel about another young library patron, a Sudanese refugee, and enlists Maeve’s help in convincing him to participate. A scheme to get her job back draws Maeve further into Riddles’s universe—where shocking questions about sex, morality, and the purpose of literature threaten to upend her orderly life.

A writer of “savage compassion” (Salvatore Scibona, author of The Volunteer), Sarah Braunstein constructs a shrewd, page-turning caper that explores one woman’s search for agency and ultimate reckoning with the kind of animal she is.


Braunstein fashions a red-hot poker that skewers the limits of the white imagination. [A] sharp-witted, ravishing novel.

— Claire Luchette, The New York Times Book Review

Wise, wily, intriguing, and so much fun. Bad Animals mesmerized me. I did not want it to end. This is Braunstein at her very best.

— Lily King, author of Euphoria, Writers & Lovers

“Pulsing ... Exploring themes of appropriation, obsession, and control, Braunstein’s tangled novel will leave readers unsettled.”

— Rebecca Hopman, Booklist

“[C]lever... In a book with supple writing throughout, this writer also evokes the state’s climate and its landscape in singular ways ... It’s a credit to Braunstein’s craft that this tale, filled with incisive observations and often amusingly unflattering revelations about a few primary players, is also leavened with tenderness. With Maeve as teller of this tale, Braunstein plants just enough seeds of doubt, prompting you to frequently reconsider the actions of other characters as well. This makes for a slightly off-balance read, in quite an energizing way."

— Carol Iaciofano Aucoin, WBUR

"Sarah Braunstein’s Bad Animals is a dazzling high-wire act. Absolutely chilling."

— Richard Russo, author of Somebody’s Fool

"Bad Animals opens with a delightful shock, and then the fun begins. With deft, sly, loving insight into the human animal and its genius for self-deception, Braunstein ratchets up and sustains this extraordinary novel's elegance and complexity until the last, beautiful sentence."

— Kate Christensen, author of The Great Man and Welcome Home, Stranger

"Bad Animals is a story of intrigue, and mystery, and love. Above all, it’s about the lies we tell each other—and the ones we tell ourselves.  It's the best book yet by one of my favorite writers—haunting, unsettling, and unforgettable."

— Jennifer Finney Boylan, author of Good Boy and co-author of Mad Honey

"Wild, wicked, whip-smart, hilarious—Bad Animals brought out the hungry reader in me and I devoured it, blissfully. Sarah Braunstein is tough and tender in equal measure: unsparing on the subjects of whiteness, literary lions, and good intentions, yet so large-hearted that this giddy misadventure cannot help but turn moving in the most true and abiding way."

— Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, author of Likes

"Bad Animals kept me up all night for its gorgeous prose, its breathtaking insights into human nature, and its fresh, original page-turning plot. What a triumph."

— Monica Wood, author of The One-In-A-Million Boy

In her riveting new novel Bad Animals, Braunstein does something far more interesting than simply call-out male power. She lets us watch that power get stolen in broad daylight. With a high-wire plot that’s beautifully built and slyly rendered, Bad Animals interrogates the insanely high costs of self-deception and offers us a supremely wise and damn funny story of bravery in the face of abject longing."

— Susan Conley, author of Landslide

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