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We the Animals

picture of book cover

A semi-autobiographical work of fiction, We the Animals tells the history of a family and the Boy Who Left.
It’s hard these days to feel like any book featuring abuse and children doesn’t feel a bit been there, done that. It’s hard to empathize, although not sympathize, with parents who married too young and could never quite do right by their children. But by delineating the book into chapters focused on “we” — the nous being three brothers – versus “I,” there’s a palpable sense of “hey, Justin Torres is doing something cool.”
“When we were brothers, we were Musketeers. … We were monsters—Frankenstein, the bride of Frankenstein, the baby of Frankenstein,” he writes. Later, as the brothers are drifting apart, the narrator comments that still “everyone in the neighborhood knew: they’d bleed for me, my brothers, had bled for me.” As it becomes clear that the narrator is destined for a different life, his brothers “believe I would know a world larger than their own. They hated me for my good grades, for my white ways. All at once they were disgusted, and jealous and deeply protective, and deeply proud.”
There’s a lot to be said for the stark language, much of which is vivid, be it describing their mother’s beat-up face or their parents having sex in the bathroom and forgetting their children are in the bathtub. But the bottom line is that I never felt quite sucked into the story. I don’t feel like it’s a must-read, but I do look forward to reading Justin Torres’ next work. I also think that it will feel like a lifeline for many teenagers who are struggling with fitting in due to their race or sexuality.