The Zoo at the Edge of the World Book Poster Image

The Zoo at the Edge of the World



Bullied kid talks with animals in colonial fantasy tale.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Explores issues from colonialism and Victorian class structure to the exploitation of indigenous people, animals, plants, and resources. Even before he develops the ability to converse with many animals, protagonist Marlin has a lot of knowledge about their habits and needs.

Positive messages

Kindness, compassion, courage, and perseverance are important, as is trying to figure out the right thing to do -- and then doing it.

Positive role models

Marlin deals with many ethical struggles, mostly involving conflicting duties (for example, when his father orders him to do something he knows is wrong) and is sometimes prevented from doing what he thinks is right. The jaguar who befriends him is a complex character, given to thought-provoking remarks, such as, "A jaguar eats his fill and leaves the rest for scavengers. A man would lock up the world for himself and let it rot." Young tourist Olivia befriends Marlin and tries to help, with limited success. Marlin's older brother is a bully; his father is an adventurer who cares more for the success of his grand vision than for the consequences. Other adult characters are greedy, snobbish, and nasty.


Many a kid (and adult) will be especially upset by a scene in which a baby animal, the last in a litter that's being fed to a snake, asks Marlin where his brothers and sisters have gone. As the story begins, a jaguar is blamed for the death of a Zoo worker, but someone or something else may have done the deed. Humans and animals are sometimes killed or injured by other humans or animals.


There's a strong attraction between 12-year-olds Olivia and Marlin, and one kiss, but the romance doesn't get far.

Not applicable
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

In the climactic scene, Marlin's father gets drunk on gin.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that in The Zoo at the Edge of the World, 12-year-old Marlin converses with the animals in his father's zoo as he tries to protect his loved ones and struggles to do the right thing. There's enough violence and other darkness here to be upsetting to sensitive readers, with lots of bullying, a father throwing his son in a cage, and a difficult scene involving a snake and a cute baby animal. 

What's the story?

In a fictional, 19th-century British Guiana, 12-year-old Marlin is the younger son of world-famous adventurer Rohan Rackham. Bullied by his older brother and overwhelmed by his father, Marlin's a stutterer whose only friend is his pet monkey. As the story opens, a boatload of rich, snobbish Victorian tourists has arrived at THE ZOO AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, the Rackham family business, in which indigenous animals are caged for the benefit of gawking visitors. Things change dramatically when a newly captured jaguar gives Marlin the ability to converse with the animals; soon he's dodging dangers and trying to save innocents as the truth -- or at least a different perspective -- behind everything he knows comes to light.

Is it any good?


The Bully Book author Eric Kahn Gale returns with a heartfelt, uneven book that may try to do too much. It's a coming-of-age tale of a stuttering kid overshadowed by a larger-than-life parent and a bullying brother, now forced to question everything he thought was true; the toxic legacy of colonialism; the ethics of exploiting animals for human gain, whether for greed or "the greater good"; and -- oh, yeah -- a bit of first love with an aristocratic girl whose parents definitely have other ideas for her. Parts of the story are almost painfully compelling, whereas others feel like a slapdash attempt to connect an assortment of themes. Many kids will relate to Marlin's struggles to protect his loved ones while rising above his disability and his toxic family and cheer him on as he finds courage to do the right thing. Animal-loving kids may find some scenes involving cute, vulnerable, doomed critters especially upsetting.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how good intentions (such as Marlin's father's plan to "save" the jungle) can turn out really badly, and a noble goal can lead to terrible behavior. How might you keep this from happening if you were trying to accomplish something?

  • Why do you think stories about being able to talk with animals are so popular? How is The Zoo at the Edge of the World similar to other such tales you know? How is it different?

  • Does this story make you want to learn more about the colonial era in South America?

Book details

Author:Eric Kahn Gale
Illustrator:Matthew Howley
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Adventures, Brothers and sisters, Misfits and underdogs, Wild animals
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Balzer + Bray
Publication date:August 26, 2014
Number of pages:240
Publisher's recommended age(s):8 - 12
Available on:Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

This review of The Zoo at the Edge of the World was written by

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