Small Animals Book Summary - Small Animals Book explained in key points
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Small Animals summary

Kim Brooks

Parenthood in the Age of Fear

4.1 (147 ratings)
20 mins

Brief summary

Small Animals by Kim Brooks is a poignant memoir about the author's experience leaving her child in the car for a few minutes and the subsequent societal judgement, highlighting the dangers of our culture of fear and the need for empathy.

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    Small Animals
    Summary of 7 key ideas

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    The author was arrested for leaving her son alone in a car for a few minutes, despite there being little apparent risk.

    On an overcast day in March, 2011, the author was standing in line at the checkout counter of a Target store in a suburban strip mall in Richmond, Virginia. She was stressed – she had to catch a flight later that day with her two children. On top of that, she was a nervous flyer. As the cashier slowly scanned her items, she grew more and more anxious.

    The author had taken what would prove to be a fateful decision. Outside, her four-year-old son was waiting in her car, alone. He was happily playing on an iPad. He hadn’t wanted to come with her into the store, so she had decided to leave him in the car. What could go wrong in a locked car in a quiet parking lot in a safe part of town? She’d avoid the hassle and potential tantrums involved in bringing him inside.

    It was a cool day, with no risk of her son overheating. She’d child-locked the car and activated its alarm. He’d be safe for the five minutes it would take her to dash inside and buy the headphones that would help keep him quiet on their flight later that day, freeing her up to look after her baby.

    Eventually, she paid for the headphones, dashed outside and breathed a sigh of relief as she returned to the car. Her son, engrossed in his game, barely acknowledged her presence when she climbed in and drove off.

    But that evening, back in Chicago, she got a voicemail message from the local Richmond police force. While she was in Target, someone had seen her son alone in the car. Concerned for his safety, this person had filmed her son and called the police. When the author emerged from Target and drove away, the observer gave the police the car’s registration number.

    Despite her son not having suffered any harm, nor even being exposed to any apparent risk, the author was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a charge used in cases where someone is accused of neglecting or exposing a child to harm. She had to employ a lawyer, travel back to Virginia and self-report for arrest.

    Eventually, she reached a deal to perform 100 hours of community service back home, in return for not being prosecuted. The punishment was bearable. Far worse was the emotional impact the situation had on her.

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    What is Small Animals about?

    Small Animals (2018), explores how parenthood has become an exercise in fear, anxiety and constant intervention. Drawing from the author’s own parenting experiences, it explores how our perceptions of risk have become so distorted that we intervene, meddle, watch and manage our children’s lives at the cost of their freedom, fun and health.

    Small Animals Review

    Small Animals (2018) explores the modern anxieties of parenting in a world filled with fear and judgment. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Offers an honest and relatable reflection on the challenges of motherhood, highlighting the pressure to be a 'perfect' parent and the impact it has on our lives.
    • With its sharp social commentary and thought-provoking analysis, it invites readers to question societal norms and consider the long-term effects on parents and children.
    • By combining personal experiences with research and conversations with experts, the book provides valuable insights and a nuanced understanding of the issues at hand.

    Best quote from Small Animals

    When did a good parent become a parent who is constantly, obsessively focusing on risk?

    —Kim Brooks
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    Who should read Small Animals?

    • Parents who value their children’s independence and freedom
    • New parents
    • Anyone interested in how fear and moral judgments are entwined in today’s society

    About the Author

    Kim Brooks is a writer and editor of personal essays at the news and opinion website Salon. She is also the author of the 2016 novel the Houseguest. She lives in Chicago with her husband and four children.

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    Small Animals FAQs 

    What is the main message of Small Animals?

    The main message of Small Animals is an exploration of the anxiety and fear that parents face in our modern society.

    How long does it take to read Small Animals?

    The reading time for Small Animals varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Small Animals a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Small Animals is a thought-provoking read that sheds light on the challenges of parenting in the modern world.

    Who is the author of Small Animals?

    The author of Small Animals is Kim Brooks.

    What to read after Small Animals?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Small Animals, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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