Genre: Literary Fiction (kind of YA)
Published: August 30th 2011 by Houghton Mifflin HarcourtGoodreads
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.
When starting We The Animals critically acclaimed, by traditional media outlets that is, there is this expectation that this novel was going to be life changing and an instant favorite. It ended up being a confusing disappointment. There are specific things that I did enjoy, but for the most part We The Animals was an odd story that lacked a legitimate and persistent plot.
Torres writes with an interesting narrative style, especially in his usage of pronouns such as the transition of we, I, and they throughout the novel. As the narrator’s relationship with his brothers develops and he grows as a character, we see the pronouns shift which allows for a very smart writing style. The specific focalization implemented by Torres is also an interesting attribute to his writing because the lens of the novel is through a relatively young boy making some of the adult content very uncomfortable. The focalization and age of the protagonist for most of the novel made it difficult to place this novel into a genre. It never felt like a young adult novel until the end, but it was also too explicit to be a children’s novel. It felt like a strange hybrid of the two with young characters, but mature content.
Every chapter is disconnected creating this non-consistent plot line. There was a sort-of climax that came at the very end of the novel, but there was not much of a lead up to it. It was very strange and hard to follow. The narrator has this revelation that felt like it came from out of left field. The resolution, too, left much to be desired as it was not explained. The disconnectedness of the chapters led to a disconnected feel for the reader in both the plot and the lives of the characters.
The fact that these kids were in school at all only became evident by the end of the book. There was so much context missing from the novel that made reading a very confusing process. If I could only describe this book using one word it would be strange. Despite this being a realistic fiction novel, there is a distinct lack of world building. Torres does do a great job of creating this specific setting, but there is this timeless placeless feeling that overwhelms the reader. Yes, you know the character’s house, but other than that you feel displaced in not knowing the great world surrounding the ultimately unnamed narrator character.
Torres plays with “controversial themes” of race and sexuality, but they were not approached in a very great way. The fact that the narrator was gay was dealt with so quickly and strangely. Okay, he is gay but why must he also be crazy? The fact that he was gay just felt like an afterthought rather than something that should be thoroughly explored. As someone who comes from a Puerto Rican family, I felt the portrayal of the culture to be very stereotypical. It felt like a generalization that reflected so poorly on a group of people. The author even takes a stab at mental illness, but is entirely unsuccessful.
By the end of the novel, the author tries to point out the narrator’s inherent “outsiderness,” but that was not a theme that he faced throughout the story. We The Animals attempts to have many similarities to S.E Hinton’s The Outsiders from its themes, argument and writing style, but it was not able to pull off as strong of a plot as that celebrated novel. The character’s arc was not successfully written to achieve the “development” that the author ultimately obviously had in mind to create this outsider who faces adversity.
The ending was abrupt and once again confusing. The animal symbolism was brought back in full storm, but it made no sense. This may be due to the fact that the author decided the narrator should have a mental breakdown out of nowhere and no context.
The good thing is that the novel is a quick and short read, so it inevitably did not waste a whole lot of my time. If I had to quantify my thoughts on We The Animals it would equate to one maybe one and a half, out of five stars. This is not a novel that I would recommend to others to read, if that has not been made obvious yet.