The Puma Years by Laura Coleman

I was immediately enticed by this book by the gorgeously bright and unusual cover. Also, the intriguing title which really didn’t give much away apart from being able to hazard a guess that a puma might feature quite strongly in the story of Laura’s life!


In this rapturous memoir, writer and activist Laura Coleman shares the story of her liberating journey in the Amazon jungle, where she fell in love with a magnificent cat who changed her life.

Laura was in her early twenties and directionless when she quit her job to backpack in Bolivia. Fate landed her at a wildlife sanctuary on the edge of the Amazon jungle where she was assigned to a beautiful and complex puma named Wayra. Wide-eyed, inexperienced, and comically terrified, Laura made the scrappy, make-do camp her home. And in Wayra, she made a friend for life.

They weren’t alone, not with over a hundred quirky animals to care for, each lost and hurt in their own way: a pair of suicidal, bra-stealing monkeys, a frustrated parrot desperate to fly, and a pig with a wicked sense of humor. The humans, too, were cause for laughter and tears. There were animal whisperers, committed staff, wildly devoted volunteers, handsome heartbreakers, and a machete-wielding prom queen who carried Laura through. Most of all, there was the jungle―lyrical and alive―and there was Wayra, who would ultimately teach Laura so much about love, healing, and the person she was capable of becoming.

Set against a turbulent and poignant backdrop of deforestation, the illegal pet trade, and forest fires, The Puma Years explores what happens when two desperate creatures in need of rescue find one another.

My thoughts:

When they are well written, a memoir features as one of my favourite genres or types of writing. I have read quite a few good ones, but also some bad ones. The issue is that there is quite a disparity between having an interesting life and being able to fascinate, transport and earn the respect of the reader without coming across as egotistical or self-righteous.

Thankfully, Laura’s talent and ability as a writer shines through this book. The stories of mistreatment of animals by selfish humans are all too accurate and realistic, and she definitely does highlight some important issues around conservation, the environment, deforestation and wildlife.

What spoke to me more than any of that though, was definitely the way that Laura describes her disconnection with nature and the environment as part of her Western culture and the change that occurred as a result of her time in Bolivia. You can clearly see how she re-established a connection with nature that is all often to sadly lost past the inquisitivity of childhood.

The writing is beautifully atmospheric and I feel that I have been transported to Bolivia and experienced this country through Laura’s eyes, but also in some ways my own. My partner has always spoken about a desire to visit Bolivia, and I always thought of that as very random, but I have definitely been exposed to the natural beauty of the country through reading this book. However, I definitely feel that if I were to ever visit Bolivia or a similar country with lots of wildlife and jungle, I would definitely be a more conscious and thoughtful traveller as a result of reading this book.

Laura is an inspirational person and this is an inspirational book that really brings home the harsh and heart-breaking reality of what it means to be a wild animal in the modern world.

I loved the way she writes so candidly about being faced with Wayra and the way their relationship and trust is built but also tested as we reach some dramatic and threatening scenarios in the book.

I believe this to be a must read for animal lovers, memoir fans and anyone who is looking for an evocative, atmospheric, emotional and thought-provoking read. It is both a book to get thoroughly lost in while reading, but also a book that will stay with you for a long time after you’ve finished it.


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