Two men adopt a pig and move to a farm that they convert into an animal sanctuary. How could I resist this book? In Happily Ever Esther, Steve Jenkins and Derek Walter write about their misadventures in starting up the Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary, which include: realizing they don’t have a vehicle to transport a pig to a vet, seeing the male sheep on their farm fighting for dominance, confronting rabbit rights activists who think their outdoor enclosure for their rabbit is animal cruelty, Esther’s rebellious teenage years, and so on.
The book is told in Steve’s voice, who admits he can get a bit dramatic over the animals in his care. As a somewhat dramatic cat mom myself, I can totally relate to the emotional roller coaster he goes through whenever one of the animals (especially Esther!) gets sick or hurt. One chapter where he stays overnight at a vet clinic while Derek drives home to care for the other animals at the farm really hit home, and I love how much he and Derek clearly love the animals on their farm.
The book talks about how steep their learning curve was, and how they’ve sometimes had to make difficult choices, such as letting go of a wonderful volunteer whose disregard for instructions led to potential tragedy. They also talk about their visit to a place touted as pig paradise, and how difficult it was for them to see the reality of the circumstances the pigs were in. There was no shelter, so the pigs were pretty much in the hot sun all day, and some had moles and spots that looked cancerous. And in a horrifying scene, visitors are given hot dogs to feed the pigs — thankfully, they turned out to be made of chicken, not pork, but still!
They also talk about the cruel conditions that animals in commercial farms are often subjected to. Like how cows are artificially kept pregnant so they can keep lactating and giving milk, and how chickens are kept in tiny cages and kept fat and inactive so their meat is tasty. Both Steve and Derek are vegan, and I can see how knowing all these things can make one choose that lifestyle. The book also includes lots of great recipes that are ‘Esther approved’, including meat-free bacon (made out of rice paper and spices) and eggz on toast (using wheat and stuff to mimic egg yolk).
The book as a whole is charming and sweet but the chapters feel a bit random, and the narrative thread tying it all together isn’t that strong. As a result, it feels a bit slow at times, and despite being a fairly short book, it took me a while to get through it. I’d personally love a Netflix series about the Happily Ever Esther Farm and the animals who live on it. I’d totally binge on that.
Thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for an e-galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.