Dr. Homero Noline watches his sleeping daughters, Cosima and Halimeda. The girls perform elaborate rituals to hide their sleeping together; he does not tell them that he knows. They spent the day, the Day of the Dead, happily helping to plant flowers in the cemetery along with a group of neighbors. Doc Homer considers that the grave they decorated is that of a great grandmother who is no part of their family. He decides not to allow them to return to the cemetery the following year. Watching the girls from the doorway, Doc Homer feels how close they are to each other and how distant they are from him. They have no mother.
In August of 1985, Hallie, as Halimeda is commonly known, leaves Tucson, Arizona for Nicaragua; shortly thereafter, Codi, as Cosima is known, takes a bus to Grace, where the two grew up. Codi has not been back home since her high school graduation in 1972. She is the only person to get off the bus in Grace. No one is there to meet her.
Carrying her bags into town, she already misses Hallie and her lover Carlo, both of whom she had been living with in Tucson. The home they had established fell apart when Hallie left; she was the only homemaker of the three. Carlo, like all of Codi's boyfriends, had "loved Hallie best and settled for" Codi, which did not bother Codi. But without Hallie, no longer in love with Carlo, and not at all attached to her job as a clerk at the local 7-Eleven convenience store, Codi had no reason left to stay in Tucson. And with Doc Homer ill, there was an important reason for her to return to Grace.
Codi walks through town to the house of her old high school friend Emelina Domingos, where she plans to live. She will care for her father and teach biology at the high school. Codi continues past town, through the orchards. Hearing the call of a peacock, she considers the local legend of the nine blue- eyed Gracela sisters who came to the area from Spain to marry miners in a local gold camp, their peacocks in tow. Codi mistakes a bunch of kids hitting a peacock-shaped piñata as attacking of a live bird, only realizing her mistake after she has begun to chastise them.
On a separate page before the beginning of each chapter, a single name appears: Homero before the first and Codi before the second. Animal Dreams is narrated by two different voices; the names announce the perspective of each section. The narrative voice shifts at varying intervals throughout the novel but is always announced. In the sections preceded by Homero, a third person limited narrator shares the perspective of Doc Homer. A larger number of chapters are narrated in the first person voice of Cosima, whom everyone calls Codi.
The separation of the two narrative voices mirrors the separation of the characters, while the perspective of each symbolizes his or her personality. Doc Homer goes about his entire life as if it were a medical experiment. Medical metaphors abound in the chapters told from his perspective. He always attempts to be objective and to maintain himself at a distance. The third person, being more an objective point of view than first person, fits him perfectly. It also suggests that he may no longer be present to tell his story himself. On the other hand, Codi, the main protagonist of the story, is engaged in a personal search for meaning and direction in her life. Her narration in the first person helps the reader to identify with her as a protagonist and also demonstrates her struggle to understand the place of her life in the larger scheme of the world.