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Review: We the Animals

September 9, 2011

Three young brothers grow up in a chaotic household with their Puerto Rican father, Paps, and white mother, Ma.  At times everything’s glorious and fun, but quite often it’s not.  The boys suffer from abuse and neglect and mostly run free, hence the name animals.

At the beginning of the book, the unnamed narrator feels a great sense of loyalty to his parents and brothers, but as the book progresses, he begins to sense that he’s different.  When he tries to come to terms with it, his life changes forever.

I found We the Animals, by Justin Torres, oddly compelling as I read it, but I wasn’t really sure why until I got to the end.  Most of the story is told from the first person point of view, but the perspective shifts to the third person at the end.  The ending is somewhat ambiguous, but I found it deeply disturbing.   The story’s not told in a linear fashion.  It’s really a collection of stories that individually don’t tell all that much, but collectively pack a powerful punch.

I can’t say that I could relate to the three brothers because their lives were so different from mine, but my heart did ache for them.  Their parents and their parents’ relationship were volatile and the boys were exposed to so much that they shouldn’t have been.  It has to be difficult to grow up and come of age in a household like that, but these boys had no choice.  Watching them grow up was like seeing a train wreck – I was horrified, yet I couldn’t look away.

I’m not quite sure I loved We the Animals, but I liked it an awful lot.  I finished it several days ago and it’s still on my mind, and I think that speaks volumes.  I have a feeling it’s the kind of book that will grow on me.  When I finished it I had to talk to someone about it, and knowing that Julie had recently read it, I turned to Twitter.  We chatted about it for a while, so I think this book would be a good pick for book clubs who enjoy literary fiction.

Review copy provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I am an Indiebound Affiliate.
34 Comments leave one →
  1. September 9, 2011 5:24 am

    I’ve seen a couple of reviews of this that were a bit bleh, but this does sound interesting and I do like unraveling the mysteries as to why books are compelling reads. I may have to check this one out.

  2. September 9, 2011 6:31 am

    There’s alot of buzz that this book could be a contender for the Pulitzer. I haven’t it read it yet, but it’s is on my “to order” list from my indie store. Thanks for the review.

  3. September 9, 2011 6:36 am

    After reading what I wrote – note to self – drink coffee before writing comments. Sorry for the errors 🙂

  4. September 9, 2011 6:56 am

    I’ve been curious about this one Kathy and yours is the first review I’ve read. Sounds good but sad.

  5. September 9, 2011 7:04 am

    This doesn’t sound like my typical kind of read — the collection of stories aspect (because I generally don’t read short stories), and the radically dysfunticional family aspect (because I tend to be overly affected by narratives of children in crisis or desparate circumstances).

    The fact that you are still thinking about the book days later, and that it inspired you to reach out to someone else who had read it, says alot, though.

  6. September 9, 2011 7:15 am

    Humm. I wasn’t really planning on reading this one, but I love books that make me want to talk about them. I may reconsider.

  7. September 9, 2011 7:30 am

    I have this one from BEA and have not been rushing to read it, even though it has so much buzz. But now I need to bump it up in my to-read list. Thanks for the review!

  8. September 9, 2011 8:29 am

    I haven’t heard of this one. I think I would really need to be in the mood to read something like this. It sounds distrubing but very interesting.

  9. September 9, 2011 8:36 am

    When I read books like this, it makes me feel kind of angry. I would probably have to be in the right kind of mood.

  10. September 9, 2011 9:01 am

    it’s my first time to meet the book. it appears intriguing to me while finishing your post. i should a look a copy of this. =) thanks for sharing anyway. =)

  11. September 9, 2011 9:58 am

    This one does sound different and unusual, and the family dynamics remind me a little bit of Salvage The Bones, which was also a very different kind of reading experience for me. I am glad that you wound up liking it, and that it was a solid read.I honestly don’t know how I would do with this one.

  12. September 9, 2011 10:12 am

    Not in the right place to read this sort of book right now. I need cheering up things in my life, so I leave these to you, Kathy! Sounds like a depressing sort of book that’s meant to relieve the author of personal angst… You must have felt the heaviness and horror of all that. I say, move on toward the light!! LOL


  13. September 9, 2011 10:18 am

    I think this one might be too much of a downer for me. Your review is excellent, Kathy!

  14. September 9, 2011 10:31 am

    I don’t tend to be drawn to “coming of age” stories. This one does sounds original, but I still think I’ll pass.

  15. September 9, 2011 10:38 am

    I am amazed how much my opinion of a book can change by the last chapter or the last page. It’s always kind of fun when that happens

  16. September 9, 2011 10:51 am

    Fantastic review!!!! It’s a powerful book for sure!

  17. September 9, 2011 10:53 am

    I think I would probably like this book. I tend to gravitate towards dysfuntion and this one is told from a boy’s point of view, which i don’t see too much with this type of book.

  18. September 9, 2011 12:16 pm

    Not sure if this book is for me, but I like books that linger after I have read them.

  19. September 9, 2011 1:05 pm

    I do like those that stay on your mind, who doesn’t. So many books these days I like, but then forget about

  20. September 9, 2011 2:05 pm

    I’m glad it ended up being a good read for you. It really seems like it would be hard to read and a bit depressing. Sometimes I need to space those kind of books out during the year.

  21. September 9, 2011 2:47 pm

    I’ve been curious about this book particularly after reading a summary. Yours is the first review I’ve read of it and I can understand why you wanted to talk about it after reading. It sounds like an interesting book but also sad nad kind if grim…

  22. September 9, 2011 3:45 pm

    I have been reading lots of stuff about this one and at first I thought it might not be for me but now…

  23. September 9, 2011 5:47 pm

    Wow, this one certainly sounds like a thought-provoking read. I do like those type of books. This one didn’t really stand out to me from the summary I’d seen around, but I like to have an actual review to think on it more. Thanks for sharing. That’s great it’s something that’s still on your mind…that really can say a lot about a book.

  24. September 9, 2011 5:48 pm

    Lots of buzz surrounding this book, but here’s the part of your review that stood out for me: “The ending is somewhat ambiguous, but I found it deeply disturbing.” This makes me terrified to read it, but unable to stop myself. Great review.

  25. September 9, 2011 11:26 pm

    Hi, Kathy! I’m back, slowly (and somewhat sporadically) returning to blogging!

    I’ll keep an eye out for this tweet worthy book! 🙂

  26. September 9, 2011 11:49 pm

    Thanks Kathy for your thoughts on this one. I am still undecided.

  27. September 10, 2011 3:35 am

    This sounds different – like Sheila, I’m not sure. It would probably be a question of price and availability if I were to read this.

  28. September 10, 2011 6:33 am

    Sounds like a really intense read, I don’t know that it’s for me though. I’m really not a fan of ambiguous endings particularly in distrurbing reads.

  29. September 10, 2011 2:13 pm

    I guess this is going to be one of the buzz books this Fall. I’m really looking forward to reading it.

  30. September 10, 2011 6:27 pm

    You know how I felt about this one — it is so nice to see your thoughts in full. Thanks for this.

  31. September 10, 2011 7:25 pm

    The boys could only live with a chaotic outcome no doubt with their volatile parents. Noting this one down for my TBR list. Happy to hear that you were able to touch base with julie on this one. I know how it feels when you just want to talk about something you’ve read. It’s a great way to exchange thoughts and just say… “what did you think when….”

  32. September 10, 2011 8:35 pm

    I like books that make that sort of impact on you and this one may be one I pick up in the future. I loved your thoughts on it.

  33. September 10, 2011 11:22 pm

    Interesting. I might have to look for it. I didn’t expect to like The Glass Castle and then I fell in love with it, so I think I need to give more books like this a try.

  34. September 14, 2011 8:15 pm

    This sounds like a book you wouldn’t “love” but that would stick with you.

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