Written By: Laura Coleman
Distributed by: Little A
Review By: Melissa Minners
Some time ago, Amazon was offering free books as part of an International Authors special. I chose a few books, hoping to expand my reading horizons. One of those books took place in Bolivia. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when I selected The Puma Years by Laura Coleman, but what I got was worth buying myself a paperback copy.
The Puma Years is a memoir of Laura Coleman’s life that begins in her early twenties. At this time, the author has lost her direction, graduating from college and working a job she thought she wanted…until she was actually working it and realized she didn’t. When we meet Laura, she has left her job in the UK and gone backpacking through South America, stopping in Bolivia to volunteer for a few weeks at a wildlife sanctuary. The first couple of weeks are hell for this young woman who has never known what it was like not to have running hot water, work until you are bone-weary, live-in bug infested quarters and eat amongst monkeys.
But after being introduced to Wayra, a rescued puma Laura has been selected to work with, everything changed. Due to her previous circumstances, Wayra is having trouble adjusting to her environment, finding it hard to trust humans and fearing the very jungle she should have spent her life in all along. They begin somewhat fearful of each other, but build a relationship over time, learning to trust one another. Somewhere along the way, Laura begins to find herself while working with the animals in the sanctuary, especially Wayra who teaches her much about herself and about what she really wants out of life.
When I read the first chapter of The Puma Years, I found myself laughing at Laura, feeling like she was a pampered, whiny sort of individual. But the more I read, the more of myself I could see in her. After all, how many of us really know what we want to do in our early twenties? I, for one, was quite lost until my mid-twenties when I found a career I could finally be happy with – one that offered me as much as I offered it and left me with a warm feeling inside after a job well done. That’s what it was like for Laura. Finding herself thrust into the working world, she found she was unhappy with it all. What she would eventually realize is that she wanted something rewarding…that feeling that she was making a difference in the world. She found that with Wayra and the animals in the sanctuary and they inspired her and fellow volunteers to do so much more with their lives, giving back to the world that had given so much to them.
The way Laura tells the story of the sanctuary, the animals there, the people who work there – there is a love that cannot be denied. There are funny little anecdotes about each of the animals, but there are some sad stories mixed in as well. Laura doesn’t try to make this a happily ever after story. After all, life in the Amazon jungle is not like that. She tells us the realities of deforestation, field burning that causes forest fires that threaten the lives of the rescued animals and the volunteers who help them, the burnout suffered by dedicated and loving volunteers, the illegal wildlife trade, disease, danger, anguish at having to turn away rescues and the love that goes into working in a place like this. Her descriptiveness places us right in the story, enabling the reader to see everything as she has seen it. The photos found at the end of the book helped to solidify the scenes and animals I was already picturing in my mind’s eye.
The Puma Years is so well written, so relatable, and so worth the read, I found myself buying a couple of copies for other people to read. I bought them to enrich the lives of friends and families, but also to help the animals as proceeds from the book go to support Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi and their fight to end the illegal wildlife trade. The Puma Years is one reading experience I’ll be talking about for some time. Definitely worth checking out!