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Back in the glory days of Grace High School, Emelina Domingos was named "Lucky in Love" in her yearbook (4.24), and that's a pretty good assessment of her character. With a beautiful house, a husband she's super into, and a bunch of sweet kids, her life is pretty much idyllic. Even Emelina's mother in law, Viola, is a winner—the perfect combo of sassy old broad and loving grandma. Emelina's got fruit trees and wandering goats, and if that's not the good life, we don't know what is.
Emelina was cool in high school, but she's no mean girl. In fact, we think it's fair to say that the love in Emelina's life has less to do with luck and more to do with being awesome and working hard at everything she tries. Emelina is like a caretaking machine. She can behead chickens with one hand and bake bread with the other—and still have room left for a deep conversation.
If the question of what you do with your life is a central one for the characters in Animal Dreams, Emelina has it all figured out. What she does is love people. She loves her husband, a railroading man named Juan Teobaldo, and she loves her five sons. Codi comments over and over again on what an excellent mom she is.
Importantly, Emelina has been unusually successful at loving Codi herself. She's the one permanent person in Codi's life, aside from Hallie. They've stayed friends through all of Codi's different boyfriends, jobs, and apartments. In fact, every place that Codi's lived, she's had pictures of Emelina's sons on her fridge. In fact, our first clue that Codi might not be as much of an outsider as she thinks she is in Grace is that people all throughout her life have asked if Emelina's boys were hers.
But even though they don't know yet that they're secret cousins, when the book starts, we find Emelina putting Codi up in the guesthouse in her garden. She's stocked her best friend's fridge with beer and bread, and she's told her son to keep his pet goat out of her way. Now that's love.
Over the course of the novel, Codi and Emelina remain standbys for each other. Emelina hangs out and talks over Codi's problems with Loyd and Doc. Codi tends to help out in other ways—like administering baby Heimlich to Emelina's son Nicholas, or fixing up Mason's wrist. It's a pretty equal relationship, all in all. To Emelina, Codi feels like the sister she never had, and to Codi, Emelina is the one person in Grace who has always accepted her, even when they were growing up on opposite ends of the social spectrum.