Amazon Best Books of the Month, September 2011: We The Animals, Justin Torres‘s sparse debut novel, is brimming with delicate stories of family, of growing up, of facing reality, and of delaying it. Narrated by the youngest son of a Puerto Rican father and white mother from Brooklyn raising their three young sons in upstate New York, the novel is comprised of vignettes detailing moments spent in the eye of the ferocious bubble of home. Torres paints a large picture through diminutive strokes, evoking envy for the couple’s passion and fear for just how easily that passion turns to rage. The brothers wrestle, fight, cry, and laugh as their family is torn and repaired over and over again. Torres’s prose is fierce, grabbing hold of the reader and allowing him inside the wrenching, whirlwind of a life lived intensely. —Alexandra Foster
“We the Animals is a dark jewel of a book. It’s heartbreaking. It’s beautiful. It resembles no other book I’ve read. We should all be grateful for Justin Torres, a brilliant, ferocious new voice.” Michael Cunningham
“Some books quicken your pulse. Some slow it. Some burn you inside and send you tearing off to find the author to see who made this thing that can so burn you and quicken you and slow you all at the same time. A miracle in concentrated pages, you are going to read it again and again, and know exactly what I mean.” Dorothy Allison
“In language brilliant, poised and pure, We the Animals tells about family love as it is felt when it is frustrated or betrayed or made to stand in the place of too many other needed things, about how precious it becomes in these extremes, about the terrible sense of loss when it fails under duress, and the joy and dread of realizing that there really is no end to it.” Marilynne Robinson
“We the Animals snatches the reader by the scruff of the heart, tight as teeth, and shakes back and forth—between the human and the animal, the housed and the feral, love and violence, mercy and wrath—and leaves him in the wilderness, ravished by its beauty. It is an indelible and essential work of art.” Paul Harding,
Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Tinkers
“We the Animals marks the debut of an astonishing new voice in American Literature. In an intense coming-of-age story that brings to mind the early work of Jeffrey Eugenides and Sandra Cisneros, Torres’s concentrated prose goes down hot like strong liquor. His beautifully flawed characters worked their way into my heart on the very first page and have been there ever since.” Tayari Jones, author of Silver Sparrow “We the Animals is a gorgeous, deeply humane book. Every page sings, and every scene startles. I think we’ll all be reading Justin Torres for years to come.” Daniel Alarcon, author of Lost City Radio and War by Candlelight
“a strobe light of a story…I wanted more of Torres’s haunting word-torn world…” New York Times Book Review
“Justin Torres’ debut novel is a welterweight champ of a book. It’s short but it’s also taut, elegant, lean — and it delivers a knockout.” NPR’s Weekend Edition
“a slender but affecting debut novel by Justin Torres…[a] sensitive, carefully wrought autobiographical first novel…The scenes have the jumbled feel of homemade movies spliced together a little haphazardly, echoing the way memory works: moments of fear or excitement sting with bright clarity years later, while the long passages in between dissolve into nothingness. From the patchwork emerges a narrative of emotional maturing and sexual awakening that is in many ways familiar…but is freshened by the ethnicity of the characters and their background, and the blunt economy of Mr. Torres’s writing, lit up by sudden flashes of pained insight.” New York Times
“The communal howl of three young brothers sustains this sprint of a novel, which clocks in at a hundred and twenty-five pages. The boys, who imagine themselves the Musketeers, the Stooges, and the Holy Trinity all at once, are the wisecracking, lamenting chorus who bear witness to their parents’ wild-ride marriage. Ma got pregnant at fourteen–she tells her oldest son she could feel him growing inside her, ‘heart ticking like a bomb’–and now sleeps for days at a time and weeps whenever she tells her children she loves them; Paps, occasionally AWOL, surfaces to deliver meticulous, leisurely spankings. The collage of vignettes is elevated by Torres’s twitchy prose, in which the pummel of hard consonants and slant rhymes becomes a kind of incantation: ‘They hunched and they skulked. They jittered. They scratched…They’ll flunk. They’ll roll one car after another into a ditch.”” New Yorker
“The best book you’ll read this fall…We the Animals, a slim novel – just 144 pages — about three brothers, half white, half Puerto Rican, scrambling their way through a dysfunctional childhood, is the kind of book that makes a career….Torres’s sentences are gymnastic, leaping and twirling, but never fancy for the sake of fancy, always justified by the ferocity and heartbreak and hunger and slap-happy euphoria of these three boys. It’s a coming-of-age novel set in upstate New York that rumbles with lyric dynamite. It’s a knock to the head that will leave your mouth agape. Torres is a savage new talent.” Esquire
“First-time novelist Justin Torres unleashes We the Animals (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), a gorgeous, howling coming-of-age novel that will devour your heart.” Vanity Fair
“a novel so honest, poetic, and tough that it makes you reexamine what it means to love and to hurt. Written in the voice of the youngest of three boys, this partly autobiographical tale evokes the cacophony of a messy childhood – flying trash-bag kites, ransacking vegetable gardens, and smashing tomatoes until pulp runs down the kitchen walls. But despite the din the brothers create, the novel belongs to their mother, who alternates between gruff and matter-of-fact – ‘loving big boys is different from loving little boys – you’ve got to meet tough with tough.’ In stark prose, Torres shows us how one family grapples with a dangerous and chaotic love for each other, as well as what it means to become a man.” O, the Oprah Magazine
“The imagistic power of Justin Torres’ debut, WE THE ANIMALS (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), exists in inverse proportion to its slim 128 pages. Just try shaking off this novel about three upstate New York brothers whose knockabout childhoods with their Puerto Rican “Paps” and white “Ma” are the narrative equivalent of feral kitties being swung overhead in a burlap bag.” Elle Magazine
“a kind of heart-stopping surge of emotion and language in this musical tornado of a novel.” Pam Houston in More Magazine
“Justin Torres’ debut novel, We the Animals, does a lot more than justget read. In a mere 124 pages, it shouts, beatboxes and flirts; it lulls only to shock awake; it haunts and creeps and surprises. If Torres’ book were an object, it would be a BB gun spray-painted jungle green. If it were a sound, it would be something like Kanye West circa “808s and Heartbreaks” reinterpreting Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero.”?Torres, a 31-year-old graduate from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a current Wallace Stegner Fellow, writes in a voice that combines urgency, brutality and huggable cuteness that creates a pungent new voice both endearingly frightening and difficult to categorize.” Forbes.com
“[We the Animals] packs an outsized wallop; it’s the skinny kid who surprises you with his intense, frenzied strength and sheer nerve. You pick up the book expecting it to occupy a couple hours of your time and find that its images and tactile prose linger with you days after…what stays with me are the terrible beauty and life force in Torres’ primal tale.” Newsday
“That such a young author writes so well in his debut novel seems miraculous. Few books can match the trifecta pulled off in We the Animals: simplicity married to artistry and candor. For this reason, along with others noted here, this book could not be more highly recommended.” New York Journal of Books “Telling the story of three mixedrace brothers growing up in New York state, Justin Torres’ debut novel, We the Animals, is a quick, raw, punchy read….memorable and vivid” Dallas Morning News
“Here’s a first novel that reads like one, not because it’s amateurish or unsure of itself – it’s neither – but because it’s urgent. Urgency in fiction is easily faked – kill off the protagonist’s parents in the first sentence, or do away with dependent clauses, or use the second person – but Justin Torres’ We the Animals is actually urgent. Urgent not to tell us anything or to make a particular point, but, like a living thing, to be what it mysteriously needs to be, to fulfill the promises it makes to itself.” San Francisco Chronicle
“Filled with rich detail, tableau-like scenes, and true-to-life little boy adventures, We the Animals is a must-read novel. Torres’ evocative language grips the reader, each scene bringing the boys to life, reminding us of our own childhoods and our struggles to grow into strong men and women.” San Francisco Book Review
“It takes only a single paragraph of Justin Torres’ We the Animals to announce a powerful new voice in literary fiction….This short, sharp shock of a debut novel, based on the author’s experiences growing up poor in upstate New York, is like a viscous liquor that both burns and braces.” Arizona Republic
“It’s rare to come across a young writer with a voice whose uniqueness, power and resonance are evident from the very first page, or even the very first paragraph. It does happen every once in a while, though. And it’s happened again, just now, with the publication of We the Animals, a slender, tightly wound debut novel by a remarkable young talent named Justin Torres.” Washington Post
“Justin Torres’s slim volume We the Animals comprises a series of seminal moments from a young boy’s life, which are revealed in brilliant, searing flashes; its relatively few pages contain the arc of an entire childhood…As a debut, We the Animals proves that Torres is not only a novelist of deep empathy, but one with the ability to compress this feeling into prose until only the truest and most essential kernels remain.” TimeOut New York
An exquisite, blistering debut novel. Three brothers tear their way through childhood— smashing tomatoes all over each other, building kites from trash, hiding out when their parents do battle, tiptoeing around the house as their mother sleeps off her graveyard shift. Paps and Ma are from Brooklyn—he’s Puerto Rican, she’s white—and their love is a serious, dangerous thing that makes and unmakes a family many times. Life in this family is fierce and absorbing, full of chaos and heartbreak and the euphoria of belonging completely to one another. From the intense familial unity felt by a child to the profound alienation he endures as he begins to see the world, this beautiful novel reinvents the coming-of-age story in a way that is sly and punch-in-the-stomach powerful. Written in magical language with unforgettable images, this is a stunning exploration of the viscerally charged landscape of growing up, how deeply we are formed by our earliest bonds, and how we are ultimately propelled at escape velocity toward our futures.
About the Author
JUSTIN TORRES was raised in upstate New York. His work has appeared in Granta, Tin House, and Glimmer Train. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he was the recipient of a Rolón Fellowship in Literature from United States Artists and is a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford. Among many other things, he has worked as a farmhand, a dog walker, a creative writing teacher, and a bookseller.
3 brothers 3 musketeers mixed race. They talk of their experiences and coming of age their embarrassments their fears, their joys and pain. Life in it’s truest forms no fake facades, fairy tale stories. Souls that try to survive and be happy against the odds against prejudices and the concrete jungle. The family ups and downs father drinking, father hitting on ma and mum and dad just plain in love. The joys of brotherhood makes you want to be young again surrounded by siblings.
This story was a heart warming treat brutal and a true portrayal of many twenty-first century families one that would touch your heart and stay with you for a time. This is one story I will be revisiting again some time.