Book Review: My Gentle Barn


Recently I joined Blogging for Books. The premise is simple….bloggers get free books in exchange for a review. What a fantastic idea, right?

I’ll admit, I was a little skeptical about whether there would be anything I wanted to read, and if there was, if I’d actually get the book. Turns out, there’s plenty I want to read, and I actually got my book…in about a week. I selected “My Gentle Barn” by Ellie Laks as my first book. I’d heard about the Gentle Barn about six months ago, when another blogger posted about it (for the life of me, I can’t remember who….so sorry!). I’ve been curious about it ever since, so when I saw this book as one of the choices, I pounced.

My Gentle Barn

I love a good animal story, but when I first started this, I was really leery. The very first thing you read is the Author’s Note (yeah, I’m that person who reads every page in the book, including the copyright page.) Anyway, Ellie Laks immediately put me on guard, because she talked about how even though the book might make it sound like she had a horrible childhood, she really loves her parents and appreciates them. She says she included this information because she wanted the reader to understand her connection with animals and what the Barn means to her. I kept thinking…ok, but I didn’t think this book was about you. I thought it was about the Barn. (I know that’s harsh, and I deeply apologize to Ellie Laks. But it’s honest.)

That thought continued through the prologue, which struck me as a bit narcissistic, and through most of Chapter 1. I thought it came across as childish and honestly, a bit victimized. Laks’ recounting of being ostracized for loving animals, being misunderstood by her parents, the sexual abuse she encountered, her drug addiction, and her relationships with the wrong men just didn’t make me feel anything for her. Perhaps it was in the way she recounted all of it – while it was very straightforward and matter-of-fact, I didn’t sense any real emotion.

In a way, that theme continued through the book – whenever Laks talked about herself, I tuned out. I believe I understand her intent in including that information…after all, the Barn is a huge part of who she is, and she wanted to introduce the reader to who she was and how she got where she is. My problem was…it didn’t make much of a difference to me who she was and how she got there, and took away from an otherwise wonderful book.

What I loved about this book was everything else. I loved hearing about how Laks started off rescuing animals, first from the shelter, and then later, from the petting zoo and backyard butcher and anywhere else there was an animal in need. I loved hearing the animals’ stories. I hated the heartbreak, and I rejoiced in their rehabilitation. Laks made the animals’ stories personal – each of them affected me in some way. When she began recounting the work the Barn does with at-risk kids, I realized just how much Laks believes in the human-animal bond. She’s found a way to share that bond with the world, and it comes through in her writing.

It’s clear that Laks is passionate about what she does, and she should be. The difference she’s made in both her life and the lives of others – both human and animal – is staggering. The one area I think she falls short in is explaining the impact the Gentle Barn has had on her personally. She tries, but I can’t help wondering if it would have been better in a separate book. The mentions of how the animals have changed her seem almost like afterthoughts, like someone told her she needed to include them in her story. I’m not sure she needed to – she’s an amazing woman and has done amazing things. Perhaps she wanted to be seen as more than just the founder of the Gentle Barn, and that’s why she included it.

I can’t tell you how many times I cried reading this book. Most were tears of joy as I read about an animal who made a miraculous recovery or a kid who finally opened up. Some were tears of sorrow, and some of shame that I’ve lived my entire life so clueless of the atrocities of the dairy and farming industries.

As I was reading, I began to realize that for one thing, my post about happy cows was sorely misinformed. Most dairy cows are not happy. They’re miserable. Until I read Laks’ book, I hadn’t really put much thought into where my food came from or how humanely the animals were treated. Sure, I knew there were issues, but I didn’t really want to know. Honestly, I still don’t want to know, but now I do. Thanks, Ellie.

In all seriousness, I’m researching my options now. Laks and the Gentle Barn advocate for a plant-based diet. I get that, and I think it’s incredibly admirable. However. I like my meat, and I like my dairy. I don’t want to give them up. What I don’t like, is knowing that the milk I’m drinking comes from cows who have their babies taken away immediately, and who don’t have room to turn around. I don’t like that my chicken comes from hens who have never seen the light of day. Or that my steak comes from cows who have never tasted grass. Or that my bacon comes from pigs who stand in their own excrement, day in and day out.

That, I don’t like.

So, while I’m not ready to give up animal products, I am ready to be choosier about where they come from. Which means my dairy and beef comes from pastured cattle. My eggs and poultry from pastured chickens. My bacon from….well, maybe I’ll just give up bacon. I’m going to embrace Humaneitarian living as best I can (click here for more about being a humaneitarian). It’ll be an adjustment, believe me. In my research I realized that if I do this, I’m going to pay about 3 times as much for meat as I do now. Which means, maybe, less meat. But I want to try. It’s a small difference, but one that will make me feel like I’m doing my part. And one more step on the Fearless Creative journey.

I highly recommend My Gentle Barn. It’s well-written, easy to read, moving, and thought-provoking. If you’re an animal lover, you’ll love it. If you’re not, you might still like it. Give it a shot. For those of you on Goodreads, or who just like stars….I gave this a 4 out of 5.

And while you’re at it, check out The Gentle Barn.


I received this book free from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. 


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