When Dachshunds Ruled The Serengeti, Michael Murphy
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Gay New Adult
Tags: Racism, Contemporary, Interracial, Families, College Age MCs
Length: 226 Pages
** This review has slight spoilers. **
José Lopez is on scholarship at an Ivy League school in the northeast part of the United States. He literally arrives at the university with little more than the clothes on his back.
José didn’t have all of the stuff the others had. José was poor. José and his family were dirt poor, literally. He laughed to himself, remembering the last shack he and his family had lived in on some farmer’s land. That place literally had a dirt floor, so if anything qualified someone to call himself “dirt poor,” José thought that place did.
The oldest of nine children of migrant workers from Mexico, José is the first in the family to go to college, the first in his family to have any chance of any type of life away from the fields. His room and board are paid for (though there is a misunderstanding over what all that entails) as well as his classes. He has never spent any time away from his parents or his siblings. Understandably nervous about starting a new life away from family, he is not prepared for college life. Being Mexican brings its own set of problems. He is automatically seen as the ‘help’ and not a student and in some cases, looked down on and openly criticized.
“Marie! Is there a problem?” Dr. Adams (the college president) asked.
“Dr. Adams. No, sir. I’m trying to get this delivery man to understand that deliveries are made downstairs. I swear. They come here and don’t speak the language and take jobs away from Americans who need them.”
Phillip is José’s new roommate. Wealthy and an only child, Phillip has every type of electronic gadget known to man, more clothes than can fit in his small section of the dorm room and everything that José doesn’t have. José is a proud man and he knows he earned his scholarship but for once in his life he is feeling unsure of himself. How will he fit in when everyone else has so much and he has so little? How will he eat? He doesn’t even have sheets to put on his dorm bed and everywhere he goes he is treated as if he is beneath others. For the first time since he received his scholarship letter he is feeling as if he is in over his head.
I immediately despised Phillip and his parents, especially his mother. Thankfully that changed as his mother ended up becoming my favorite character in the entire book. She does a complete about-face from a snobby, better than everyone else character to an openly caring and genuine woman. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for Phillip, with the exception of a very small section of the book.
Gradually José and Phillip develop a routine and they become friends. Phillip helps the very proud José and becomes his protector of sorts. Eventually it is discovered that both boys are gay and before long they are experimenting sexually. Phillip has some experience with others but not José. José has never considered him straight or gay as he never had time to think about it either way as he was always working with his family. With the exception of the constant (but understandable) woe-is-me attitude of José, I was really enjoying the book. José is extremely naive but I found that charming. My initial feelings for Phillip had disappeared and I was gradually starting to genuinely like him as a person. José was starting to fit in and he had gotten to know Phillip’s family well and he had been made an unofficial member of the family.
Then everything changed.
First, there is an issue with José’s father showing up unannounced at the university and causing a scene (a visit that was never explained. Why was he there?) Then there is an issue with his siblings. Once the siblings were brought into the book, the story started going downhill for me. José, being the oldest, understandably does the right thing by his brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, the right thing for them ended up being the wrong thing for his relatively new relationship with Phillip. Phillip’s mother is the saving grace (in more ways than one) with the smaller children and any bad feelings I felt for her early on quickly disappeared at this moment in the book.
“I am a middle-aged woman who is at loose ends. I’m suffering from serious empty-nest syndrome. I’ve got a lot of mothering to do, and no one to mother. This is not an imposition. This is a gift from Heaven above.”
I never read other reviews before I read a book but I did see a couple of comments that state that the main issue for most was Phillip’s attitude when the children were brought in. I have to agree 100% in that regard but I must say that José was every bit as guilty even if he thought he was doing the right thing by his family. The right thing turned into ignoring his boyfriend and making him feel insignificant. I completely got Phillip’s attitude when this happened. I also (at that point) felt a huge amount of respect for José because he felt like he was doing what was expected of him as the eldest child. That respect quickly dissipated, not because of what he was doing for his family but because he went about his relationship with Phillip in a very selfish and childish way by some of his actions later. So in my opinion, they both screwed up.
This book could have easily been labeled a Young Adult book due to the ages of both main characters and the lack of on-page sex. This is a coming of age book but yet it’s not. I don’t recall the author giving the ages of José or Phillip but I’m going to make a guess at eighteen or nineteen considering they are both freshmen in college. Their age shows as neither is mature enough for any type of relationship as Phillip most definitely proves later when he meets a new friend. While there is no cheating in the book Phillip does make it pretty clear that a little bit more drama with José (and the go ahead from the friend) and he would have no problem whatsoever going down that road. For that reason, I say this has a happy-for-now ending. The two boys eventually work out whatever issues they had but I could easily see them falling right back into the same rut and problems that led them to an almost dissolution of the relationship.
I had to keep reminding myself that the characters were teenagers and were expected to act like teenagers. Because of all the responsibilities forced on José I found myself forgetting that at times. Thankfully, Phillip was quick to remind me by acting like a spoiled child and treating José as if he was one as well. Phillip made one angry statement to his mother at one point and it was game over for me as far as he was concerned. Throw in his new friend and there was no coming back.
Overall, a good story but one that left me with a lot of unanswered questions. I went into this book (like two of the author’s others that I really enjoyed) hoping for something light and sweet. That was not really the case with When Dachshunds Ruled the Serengeti. Nice story but I always hope for a happily-ever-after and I don’t see these two guys ever having one… not after the way both acted in the last third of the book. Perhaps had there been an epilogue showing Phillip and José farther down the road I would feel differently. Instead, I ended this thinking they really did not need to be together until they both did a lot of growing up.
I love the title and the way it was explained. Like Little Squirrels Can Climb Tall Trees (also by this author) it takes awhile for the title to be explained but when it is, it’s perfect.
This book was provided by Dreamspinner Press in exchange for a fair and honest review.