We the Animals by Justin Torres

We the Animals by Justin Torres is raw, abrasive, and rough because its characters are “animals” reverting to their baser selves in fear or confusion.  The novel reads like a short story collection, throwing readers into brief moments throughout the lives of three boys growing up in Brooklyn with a Puerto Rican father and a white mother.  Manny, Joel, and the third boy who narrates the story, creates an unconventional coming-of-age story.

“It wasn’t just the cooing words, but the damp of her voice, the tinge of her pain — it was the warm closeness of her bruises — that sparked me.”  (page 17)

These boys are wild and crazy, and their dysfunctional family life has taken them on a roller coaster ride of emotions from anger as their father beats them to deep sorrow when their mother comes home from her job to find their father has left.  These boys run free in the neighborhood, have no manners, and are struggling to find their place in the world.  Are they boys that need the protection of their mother or are they men who can take on their father and be free?  Torres shows episodes in which both of these things are true, but these boys are clearly in between, at an age where things can be magical but reality is too stark to ignore.

Torres’ writing is instinctive and brutal at times, giving this novel an autobiographical feel.  The novel is told from the viewpoint of the youngest boy reminiscing and much of it seems nostalgic, even for the not-so-normal parts of his life — where he sees the good in it and possibly relationships he misses having.  However, even though the novel is told from the point of view of the youngest brother, readers may find themselves disconnected from the characters because the scenes are so clipped and blaze by with quick, bright images that shock them — at least until the end.  At little more than 100 pages, We the Animals takes readers on a quick journey through a rough childhood of poor, mixed-race boys in Brooklyn who have to deal with more than there share of depravity and sadness.

I want to thank Ti at Book Chatter for her review that got me interested in Torres’ work.

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.

This is my 67th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

This is my 18th book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge.


  1. I was really impressed with this novel. The writing was so intense, as was the story itself. Utterly gripping!

  2. Ti’s review had me interested in this author’s work too. I may still pick it up sometime in the future!

  3. This does sound raw and gritty. I don’t think I’d like the clipped scenes, though. Great review, as always.

  4. All of the adjectives you chose are spot-on. Brutal, raw…you hit it right on the head. I was even more impressed with Torres after listening to his various interviews.

  5. Dawn - She Is Too Fond of Books says

    I’m so impressed with the number of new-to-you authors that you’ve read this year … and you have six weeks to go!

    Janel’s comment is along the lines of what I’ve been thinking – slim volumes can often carry great impact.

  6. The format of this book sounds interesting. I love the idea of turning connected stories into a novel and it sounds like this is similar. A lot of emotion can be packed into a few words.

    • I really liked the format…though it was a bit confusing at first, but eventually, I just enjoyed it…and the emotional ending was fantastic.

  7. This book was rather jarring, but that end just broke my heart. What a wonderful review!

  8. I’ve been wanting to read this one. I sounds like it can be a tough story even though it is a short novel.