We the Animals, by Justin Torres, debut not new


We the Animals

By Justin Torres

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Mariner Books, 2012

128 pages

I was swept away by the brevity of this book and the powerfully rendered language.

Three brothers grow up hungry and poor in a small town in upstate New York. Their parents had their first son at ages 14 and 16 and took the bus to Texas to get married, because 14-year olds could not marry in New York State. But although their parents love each other, they do not get along. The father is violent and the mother dependent, to cope the boys create fantastical worlds of their own. This is a classic coming of age story, told from the POV of the youngest son as he grows from about age 7 to 17. The book sets itself apart with its razor sharp language and poetic chapters that reminded me of Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street.

This book was greeted with universal acclaim when it came out in 2011. If you didn’t pick it up at the time, I highly recommend it. It’s a spare book that will send a chill up your spine.

Torres recently finished a year-long fellowship at Radcliffe.

I bought this book at Powell’s, during a recent trip to Portland, OR.


1 Comment

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One response to “We the Animals, by Justin Torres, debut not new

  1. Dock Oscar

    I read this book, at your recommendation, and thought it was well written (which is rare) and quite gripping. I think you really captured the essence of the book, without giving away too much. Thanks for turning me onto another good book.

    He’s my thoughts that I put down for goodreads.

    Well written in a vernacular type of style. I am surprised about some of the trashing of this book. Oddly enough, most of this story felt a bit like my experiences growing up in rural upstate NY, after leaving Queens. The poverty seems real and believe me, upstate has some grinding poverty. The three brothers portrayed remind me of my brothers, living in a quasi-fantasy world to cope with being so poor and dealing with some severe family issues. My only problem with the book is the end. I thought it moved too quickly to the narrator’s sexuality. It did not seem nearly developed as the early portions of the book.

    All in all, a good debut.

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