With Barn 8, Deb Olin Unferth (Wait Till You See Me Dance) delivers a most unusual tale. Janey Flores, 15, lives a comfortable life with her mother in Brooklyn, N.Y. When Janey learns that the father she never knew is alive, she flees, leaving "the old Janey" behind and starting anew in Iowa. "The new Janey" finds nothing but disappointment with her dad and pines for her old life, but her mother's sudden death extinguishes the old Janey forever. When she gets a job as an auditor for the egg industry inspecting barns that house chickens, Janey and her officious female boss, Cleveland Smith, forge an unlikely bond and concoct an unbelievable scheme: "Cleveland," the new Janey says, "let's take them all."
Janey and Cleveland scheme to steal a million chickens from Happy Green Family Farm, where tiers of birds and walls of hens as far as the eye can see live in squalor. The women join forces with Dill, a former animal rights investigator who's been waiting for years for his husband to dump him, and Annabelle, who's been living on contaminated land. They enlist a group of activists, vegans and assorted disillusioned misfits--"an assembling army called out of reserve. For what, they didn't know, but they believed in their cause and, despite everything, they'd been waiting for the summons."
While Unferth places the ethical and political implications of industrial agriculture front and center--"these days animal activism was less revolution, more capitalism with a conscience"--the novel is never strident, often hilariously funny, and sympathetic to the earnest loners who would be mocked by a less assured writer. Sobering but a ton of fun, Barn 8 is strange and wonderful. --Frank Brasile, librarian