Realism; Family Drama; Coming of Age
There are no cowboys, ghosts, or dragons in them there mines, and the only "Indian" in Animal Dreams drives an Amtrak and drinks Coke. Animal Dreams is a sometimes painfully realistic novel. It refuses to save its central damsel in distress, for example, and both of the Noline sisters try to keep it real when they say there's no such thing as heroes; there are only good people doing what needs to be done.
The novel is also a family drama because its action centers around the Noline family and their connection to the community of Grace. On the other hand, the conflict between Doc and Codi, though important, isn't really the central one in the story.
Instead, the most important issues center on Codi's coming of age. As Loyd puts it in Chapter 18, Codi hasn't yet had the job that she "grew up on," where she "stopped thinking about [herself] all the time and started thinking about something else" (18.134). Even though Codi's in her thirties, trauma has left her sort of frozen at fifteen, the moment when she lost her first child.
Even if she doesn't know it until much later on, coming back to Grace, for Codi, means picking up where she left off, and learning that it's okay to take responsibility for other people and be a part of a community. In a lot of ways, Animal Dreams is a coming-of-age story about growing up and out of family drama. Only when she gets over her past, for example, can Codi forgive her dad and her neighbors and start treating them as the people they are, rather than the people she (barely) remembers.