We the Animals

( 68 )

Overview

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 ...

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We the Animals

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

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Three young brothers, tightly bound and fiercely loyal to one another, do everything together—eat, sleep, play, fight, and get into trouble. They are so close that they refer to themselves in the first person plural, hence the inspiration for the title of this exuberant first novel by newcomer Torres. With their Puerto Rican father and white mother, they live in a small town in upstate New York. The parents' hectic shift jobs leave them little time or patience to control a pack of rambunctious boys, making life in their topsy-turvy household intense, chaotic, and loud. We the Animals is narrated from the point of view of the youngest brother as he trails his older brothers, Manny and Joel, standing on the outskirts as they get into all sorts of childish scrapes—wrecking an elderly neighbor's garden, splattering ketchup and lotion all over the kitchen, and generally wreaking havoc. All the while the three sons warily observe their parents' volatile and tempestuous marriage. As the youngest boy grows up, he begins to sense how he is different from his brothers, and his needs lead him on a path away from them. We the Animals has attracted early buzz with its searing descriptions of growing up in a tumultuous family. Readers of this forceful debut will be struck by its lyrical prose and spontaneous energy.

Publishers Weekly
Three brothers and a dueling husband and wife are bound by poverty and love in this debut novel from Stegner Fellow Torres. Manny, Joel, and the unnamed youngest, who narrates, are rambunctious and casually violent. Their petite "white" mother, with her night-shift job and unstable marriage to the boys' impulsive Puerto Rican father, is left suspended in an abusive yet still often joyous home. Nothing seems to turn out right, whether it's Paps getting fired for bringing the boys to work or Ma loading them in the truck and fleeing into the woods. The short tales that make up this novel are intriguing and beautifully written, but take too long to reach the story's heart, the narrator's struggle to come of age and discover his sexuality in a hostile environment. When the narrator's father catches him dancing like a girl, he remarks: "Goddamn, I got me a pretty one." From this point the story picks up momentum, ending on a powerful note, as Torres ratchets up the consequences of being different. (Sept.)
Library Journal
In punchy, energized language, the narrator of this dark and affecting little book relates life with his two brothers and their too young, just-making-it parents. The boys play and fight, with the first sometimes blending into the second, and though the parents can be loving with each other and with their sons, there's often trouble. Ma stops going to work when Paps briefly takes up with another woman, for instance, and becomes spiteful when he brings home a new truck with no seat belts or even backseats. The narrative moves in a straight line but is not straightforward, with the story and the texture of this family's life disclosed through a string of telling incidents. The narrator reports it all in a dispassionate, almost starry-eyed youngster's sort of way, frequently in the first person plural—"we were allowed to be what we were, frightened and vengeful—little animals, clawing at what we need"—but a creeping tension is in the air. When real anguish bursts forth at the end, you almost think it comes undeserved—and then you applaud first novelist Torres's genius ability to twist around and punch you in the gut. VERDICT Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 3/28/11.]—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews

An exquisitely crafted debut novel—subtle, shimmering and emotionally devastating.

Those whose memories of contemporary literature extend a quarter century might be tempted to compare this with Susan Minot'sMonkeys(1986), another short, elliptical debut novel about family dynamics that received rapturous reviews upon publication.Yet this is a different novel, and a better one, about a different sort of family and a narrator's discovery of how he is both a part of them and apart from them.The dedication—"For my mother, my brothers and my father and for Owen"—suggests that the narrator's rites of passage reflect the author's own, that this is a novel that probes deep, even painful truths no matter how factual it may be.The narrator is the youngest of three sons of a white, Brooklyn mother and a Puerto Rican father, who became parents in their teens.Like the title suggests, the first-person narration initially might as well be plural, for the narrator and his older brothers Manny and Leon resemble "a three-torsoed beast," scrounging for sustenance and meaning amid the tumultuous relationship of their parents, one that the boys can barely understand (though sometimes they intuit more than the narrator can articulate). Their bond provides what little defense they have against their mother's emotional instability and their father's unsteady employment and fidelity.They are, like some of the most exhilarating writing, "wild and loose and free." Yet the narrative voice is a marvel of control—one that reflects the perceptions and limitations of a 7-year-old in language that suggests someone older is channeling his younger perspective.In short chapters that stand alone yet ultimately achieve momentum, the narrator comes to terms with his brothers, his family and his sexuality, separating the "I" from the "we" and suffering the consequences.Ultimately, the novel has a redemptive resonance—for the narrator, for the rest of the fictional family and for the reader as well.

Upon finishing, readers might be tempted to start again, not wanting to let it go.

Charles Isherwood
…[a] sensitive, carefully wrought autobiographical first novel…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.
—The New York Times
Jeff Turrentine
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…whose highly personal voice should excite us in much the same way that Raymond Carver's or Jeffrey Eugenides's voice did when we first heard it.
—The Washington Post
Joseph Salvatore
We the Animals…is a strobe light of a story, its flash set on slow, producing before our eyes lurid and poetic snapshots…
—The New York Times Book Review
From the Publisher
"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

"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

"[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

"A slim book can hold volumes. We the Animals, the first novel from Justin Torres, is such a book. Not an ounce of fat on its slight frame, but the story is sinewy. Stong....We the Animals crafts beauty out of despair. From lives so fragmented they threaten to break off into oblivion at any moment, Torres builds a story that is burnished, complete. That takes talent, diligence and more than a little grace."
Houston Chronicle

"We the Animals is a book so meant to break your heart that it should lose its power just on the grounds of being obvious. That it pierces—with an arrow dipped in ache—signals that Justin Torres is a writer to embrace from the start. This is his first novel."
Newark Star Ledger

"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

"Three brothers and a dueling husband and wife are bound by poverty and love in this debut novel from Stegner Fellow Torres...The short tales that make up this novel are intriguing and beautifully written"
Publishers Weekly

"An exquisitely crafted debut novel—subtle, shimmering and emotionally devastating...the narrative voice is a marvel of control—one that reflects the perceptions and limitations of a 7-year-old in language that suggests someone older is channeling his younger perspective. In short chapters that stand alone yet ultimately achieve momentum, the narrator comes to terms with his brothers, his family and his sexuality, separating the 'I' from the 'we' and suffering the consequences. Ultimately, the novel has a redemptive resonance—for the narrator, for the rest of the fictional family and for the reader as well. Upon finishing, readers might be tempted to start again, not wanting to let it go." 
Kirkus, STARRED REVIEW

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547576725
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 8/30/2011
  • Pages: 144
  • Sales rank: 247,140
  • Product dimensions: 8.10 (w) x 5.40 (h) x 0.62 (d)

Meet the Author

Justin Torres

Justin Torres grew up in upstate New York, where this novel is set. His work has appeared in Granta, Tin House, and Glimmer Train. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he is a recipient of the Rolón United States Artist Fellowship in Literature, and is now a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford. He has worked as a farmhand, a dog-walker, a creative writing teacher, and a bookseller.

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Read an Excerpt

WE WANTED MORE

We wanted more. We knocked the butt ends of our forks against the table, tapped our spoons against our empty bowls; we were hungry. We wanted more volume, more riots. We turned up the knob on the TV until our ears ached with the shouts of angry men. We wanted more music on the radio; we wanted beats; we wanted rock. We wanted muscles on our skinny arms. We had bird bones, hollow and light, and we wanted more density, more weight. We were six snatching hands, six stomping feet; we were brothers, boys, three little kings locked in a feud for more.
   When it was cold, we fought over blankets until the cloth tore down the middle. When it was really cold, when our breath came out in frosty clouds, Manny crawled into bed with Joel and me.
   “Body heat,” he said.
   “Body heat,” we agreed.
   We wanted more flesh, more blood, more warmth.
   When we fought, we fought with boots and garage tools, snapping pliers—we grabbed at whatever was nearest and we hurled it through the air; we wanted more broken dishes, more shattered glass. We wanted more crashes.
   And when our Paps came home, we got spankings. Our little round butt cheeks were tore up: red, raw, leather-whipped. We knew there was something on the other side of pain, on the other side of the sting. Prickly heat radiated upward from our thighs and backsides, fire consumed our brains, but we knew that there was something more, someplace our Paps was taking us with all this. We knew, because he was meticulous, because he was precise, because he took his time. He was awakening us; he was leading us somewhere beyond burning and ripping, and you couldn’t get there in a hurry.
   And when our father was gone, we wanted to be fathers. We hunted animals. We drudged through the muck of the crick, chasing down bullfrogs and water snakes. We plucked the baby robins from their nest. We liked to feel the beat of tiny hearts, the struggle of tiny wings. We brought their tiny animal faces close to ours.
   “Who’s your daddy?” we said, then we laughed and tossed them into a shoebox.
   Always more, always hungrily scratching for more. But there were times, quiet moments, when our mother was sleeping, when she hadn’t slept in two days, and any noise, any stair creak, any shut door, any stifled laugh, any voice at all, might wake her, those still, crystal mornings, when we wanted to protect her, this confused goose of a woman, this stumbler, this gusher, with her backaches and headaches and her tired, tired ways, this uprooted Brooklyn creature, this tough talker, always with tears when she told us she loved us, her mixed-up love, her needy love, her warmth, those mornings when sunlight found the cracks in our blinds and laid itself down in crisp strips on our carpet, those quiet mornings when we’d fix ourselves oatmeal and sprawl onto our stomachs with crayons and paper, with glass marbles that we were careful not to rattle, when our mother was sleeping, when the air did not smell like sweat or breath or mold, when the air was still and light, those mornings when silence was our secret game and our gift and our sole accomplishment—we wanted less: less weight, less work, less noise, less father, less muscles and skin and hair. We wanted nothing, just this, just this.

NEVER-NEVER TIME

We all three sat at the kitchen table in our raincoats, and Joel smashed tomatoes with a small rubber mallet. We had seen it on TV: a man with an untamed mustache and a mallet slaughtering vegetables, and people in clear plastic ponchos soaking up the mess, having the time of their lives. We aimed to smile like that. We felt the pop and smack of tomato guts exploding; the guts dripped down the walls and landed on our cheeks and foreheads and congealed in our hair. When we ran out of tomatoes, we went into the bathroom and pulled out tubes of our mother’s lotions from under the sink. We took off our raincoats and positioned ourselves so that when the mallet slammed down and forced out the white cream, it would get everywhere, the creases of our shut-tight eyes and the folds of our ears.
   Our mother came into the kitchen, pulling her robe shut and rubbing her eyes, saying, “Man oh man, what time is it?” We told her it was eight-fifteen, and she said fuck, still keeping her eyes closed, just rubbing them harder, and then she said fuck again, louder, and picked up the teakettle and slammed it down on the stove and screamed, “Why aren’t you in school?”
   It was eight-fifteen at night, and besides, it was a Sunday, but no one told Ma that. She worked graveyard shifts at the brewery up the hill from our house, and sometimes she got confused. She would wake randomly, mixed up, mistaking one day for another, one hour for the next, order us to brush our teeth and get into PJs and lie in bed in the middle of the day; or when we came into the kitchen in the morning, half asleep, she’d be pulling a meat loaf out of the oven, saying, “What is wrong with you boys? I been calling and calling for dinner.”
   We had learned not to correct her or try to pull her out of the confusion; it only made things worse. Once, before we’d known better, Joel refused to go to the neighbors and ask for a stick of butter. It was nearly midnight and she was baking a cake for Manny.
   “Ma, you’re crazy,” Joel said. “Everyone’s sleeping, and it’s not even his birthday.”
   She studied the clock for a good while, shook her head quickly back and forth, and then focused on Joel; she bored deep in his eyes as if she was looking past his eyeballs, into the lower part of his brain. Her mascara was all smudged and her hair was stiff and thick, curling black around her face and matted down in the back. She looked like a raccoon caught digging in the trash: surprised, dangerous.
   “I hate my life,” she said.
   That made Joel cry, and Manny punched him hard on the back of the head.
   “Nice one, asswipe,” he hissed. “It was going to be my fucking birthday.”
   After that, we went along with whatever she came up with; we lived in dreamtime. Some nights Ma piled us into the car and drove out to the grocery store, the laundromat, the bank. We stood behind her, giggling, when she pulled at the locked doors, or when she shook the heavy security grating and cursed.
   She gasped now, finally noticing the tomato and lotion streaking down our faces. She opened her eyes wide and then squinted. She called us to her side and gently ran a finger across each of our cheeks, cutting through the grease and sludge. She gasped again.
   “That’s what you looked like when you slid out of me,” she whispered. “Just like that.”
   We all groaned, but she kept on talking about it, about how slimy we were coming out, about how Manny was born with a full head of hair and it shocked her. The first thing she did with each one of us was to count our fingers and toes. “I wanted to make sure they hadn’t left any in there,” she said and sent us into a fit of pretend barfing noises.
   “Do it to me.”
   “What?” we asked.
   “Make me born.”
   “We’re out of tomatoes,” Manny said.
   “Use ketchup.”
   We gave her my raincoat because it was the cleanest, and we warned her no matter what not to open her eyes until we said it was OK. She got down on her knees and rested her chin on the table. Joel raised the mallet above his head, and Manny squared the neck of the ketchup bottle between her eyes.
   “On the count of three,” we said, and we each took a number—my number was last. We all took the deepest, longest breath we could, sucking the air through our teeth. Everyone had his face all clenched up, his hands squeezed into fists. We sucked in a little more air, and our chests swelled. The room felt like a balloon must, when you’re blowing and blowing and blowing, right before it pops.
   “Three!”
   And the mallet swung through the air. Our mother yelped and slid to the floor and stayed there, her eyes wide open and ketchup everywhere, looking like she had been shot in the back of the head.
   “It’s a mom!” we screamed. “Congratulations!” We ran to the cupboards and pulled out the biggest pots and heaviest ladles and clanged them as loud as we could, dancing around our mother’s body, shouting, “Happy Birthday! . . . Happy New Year! . . . It’s zero o’clock! . . . It’s never-never time! . . . It’s the time of your life!”

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Table of Contents

We Wanted More 1
Never-Never Time 4
Heritage 8
Seven 12
The Lake 18
Us Proper 24
Lina 30
Other Locusts 33
Talk to Me 39
You Better Come 44
Night Watch 52
Big-Dick Truck 61
Ducks 66
Trench 75
Trash Kites 82
Wasn’t No One to Stop This 86
Niagara 98
The Night I Am Made 103
Zookeeping 125
Acknowledgments 127

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Interviews & Essays

A CONVERSATION WITH JUSTIN TORRES, AUTHOR OF WE THE ANIMALS
When did you start writing, and how did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I wrote as a kid, stories and poems, and on and off as a teenager. I read all the time. But I didn't think "a writer" was an option available to me. Like, how did writers get paid? That didn't make sense to me. I never met "a writer" in my life. I met janitors, cops, people who worked in factories and in stores, waitresses, people who took care of other folks children, housecleaners, carpenters, teachers. I knew who paid them. I understood that kind of work.
I started writing seriously in my mid-twenties. And I got pretty lucky, pretty quick. I took a writing class with a friend, the professor was supportive, and he introduced me to another teacher, who took me under his wing and encouraged me to think seriously about my future. In five years, he asked me, where do you see yourself? And I honestly had no idea. I was hanging out, working jobs I hated and quitting, I had dropped out of a bunch of colleges, and I wasn't thinking about taking myself seriously. But talking to that teacher, and talking to other people in the class, I found out there were residencies and colonies and fellowships and all manner of things you could apply for, and I just started applying and sending stories out to be published, and like I said, I got lucky.
What kind of a student were you in high school? What books did you like to read?
I was a shy, perfect student until about the age of fourteen. School was an escape from home; good grades came easily to me. I loved to read. I loved to learn. I even loved math. But around fourteen, I developed a very bad attitude. I started using drugs, dyed my hair three different colors (it was the 90's), skipped school when I felt like it. I had been in honors classes and the honors kids were my friends, but I would go to their houses and just get so angry at how perfect and large and cozy their homes were, about the money they had; I would literally open their fridges and just feel rage at how delicious and expensive the food they ate was. So I gravitated to kids who were not in the honors classes with me, kids who had known grief and hard-knocks in their home lives, or poverty, a mom or dad in jail, whatever. We were punks, and we helped each other escape, we supported each other as best we could.
I slid away from school for a few years, but in the eleventh grade I had this amazing English teacher, and she challenged and encouraged me. I wanted to make her proud. She told me I could get a scholarship to college; that I belonged in college. Belonged. That is a powerful word, because I had no idea where I belonged, or who I belonged with. I started taking all my subjects seriously, and pretty quickly pulled my grades up from the gutter. I was lucky that this same teacher taught honors twelfth grade English and she fought to have me put back in all honors classes. When, in my senior year, my parents put me in the mental hospital, she came and visited me. She brought me philosophy books: Sartre, Nietzsche, Camus, and explained to me about existentialism (though it was years before I fully understood what the books or that philosophy was about). Novels: On The Road, by Jack Kerouac; Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neal Hurston; The Counterfeiters, by Andre Gide; Poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsburg; Woman Warrior, by Maxine Hong Kingston, and quite a few books by Toni Morrison, who will always be one my favorites. Not all of these books I understood then either, or rather, many of these books I feel differently about now. But I was in a desperate place and I clung to them. Once she brought some of my friends and held a class in the conference room of the mental hospital. I can never describe how much that meant to me. Literature saves lives—teachers of literature save lives, and she saved mine.
How much of the story is true?
The stories, all the details, are made up. I make a lot of things up, though people always seem to believe that everything is true. I think this is because the family these characters are based on is my own family, a very real family. So I understand these characters so well, and I can put them in any situation and describe how they would react in a convincing manner. Its true that my mother would get pretty frustrated and confused, she worked a lot of nights, she worked hard, and its true that my father beat us, its true that we danced a lot in our house, and that we loved each other in complicated, messy ways, but the details, the story, is my creation.
My parents were in the ninth grade when my mother got pregnant with my oldest brother. They dropped out of high school, moved to a small town and had two more boys before my mother was old enough to legally drink. They raised us on their own, without any financial support from their own parents. So yeah, we were pretty poor. But my parents worked hard, got their GEDs, and even started taking college classes through the mail (this was before the internet existed). I remember them with all these papers spread out on the kitchen table, books and pencils, and they'd be taking tests and writing essays, and we'd be playing at their feet. My father had a lot of trouble finding work in those days, for a number of reasons, among them a bad temper and dark skin in a town full of white people. My mother worked as a cashier at the supermarket, and then later she got a job at a brewery. Both of them often worked through the night. And we were just as wild as boys can be.
But by the time we were in high school both of my parents had attained degrees and solid jobs. My father was a cop and my mother worked as a guidance counselor. They made a lot of mistakes—a lot—but they taught us about perseverance.
What does your family think about your writing?
My brothers think some things I made up actually happened. They're all, I remember that, and I'm like, No, you don't, it didn't happen. My mother loves everything I do. She cries, a lot, when she reads my work. She calls me up crying, which can be hard, but my mother's a crier, so I don't worry too much. I have never shown my father anything. We don't talk or see each other very often, and the last time I saw him he hadn't read anything, but that didn't stop him from being pissed. We got into a huge fight. The book came out in September, and I still haven't heard a peep. So we'll see?.we'll see?
Who have you discovered lately?
I recently returned to home after a few weeks on book tour and found three books by Denton Welch waiting for me in my mailbox. The books were sent by this very handsome couple that I met when I gave a reading in DC—a happy surprise. I'd never heard of Welch, but In Youth is Pleasure is simply and deeply good; sensitive and slight and profound. I'm eager to read the rest of his work. Welch has been championed by folks like Auden and Burroughs, and for good reason. Raised in England, Welch died in 1948, at the too-young age of thirty-three. He left behind three novels. I plan to read them all, and his journals. I really can't recommend him highly enough.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 68 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 20, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Out Of We Came Me

    I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the slim volume of We the Animals by Justin Torres. How was it going to live up to the high praise; how forceful and convincing can a story be that ends when other similar books are just getting started on their storytelling journey? But, as the saying goes - good things come in small packages and I was enthralled by this amazing debut novel. Torres wastes no time getting the reader engaged and committed to his tale. We the Animals tells the story through a series of vignettes of three brothers growing up in upstate New York. The story is narrated by the youngest brother as an adult looking back on his childhood. It is through his eyes we experience the brothers' adventures, the turbulent marriage of his parents - a white mother and Puerto-Rican father, and the eventual coming-of-age of the narrator as an "I" instead of a "We."

    Torres provides an intimate portrait of a family in crisis set against the restraints imposed by themselves and society. While reading I felt like I was looking through a family album with the narrator and at each picture he stopped and told me the story behind the snapshot. Each story portrays the pain and love in their lives, as they struggled to make sense of who they were in the world, how to they take what is dished out to them and what does survival look like. The most painful stories were those where a situation started out as a joyous event, but an ugly twist soon ends the happiness. The narrator patiently, in an aching yet lovely voice, takes you from how he was a full "we" with his brothers - all for one and one for all, to his budding realization that he just might not be the same as his brothers and informs us, "They smell my difference - my sharp, pansy scent." This keeps building until a single event at the end is in many ways the culmination of the trauma, hurt and love the family feels for each other, yet they each know their world will never be the same again.

    We the Animals is a forceful debut that will invade your thoughts long after you have read the last word, as the author's storytelling is spellbinding. The portrayal of the household that is intense, chaotic, and loud is set by the controlled tone of narrative, and this provides grace to the dark lyrical prose.

    I recommend this book to readers who enjoy the structure of language to tell a story.

    This book was provided by the publisher for review purposes.

    Reviewed by Beverly
    APOOO Literary Book Review

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 13, 2011

    Poweful...exquisitely written.

    The story of three brothers as told from one brother's point of view. But what truly grabbed me was the writing. Justin Torres writes so beautifully. Not a single word is wasted. I would read paragraphs over again just because I loved the language so much. The story is so emotional and the ending will take your breath away.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 4, 2011

    Read it!

    Unusual and stunning. The usual descriptors don't apply. Read it. It's a quick, compelling evening of reading after which you'll look up amazed at what you've experienced.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2012

    Packs a punch!

    This is an intense little book. After I read the last page and closed the cover, it felt like thunder had just gone off overhead.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 26, 2011

    Worth Reading

    I was consummed by the pages and heartbroken after each event. I found myself cheering the "boys" on only to be let down by one of the parents. I wanted it to end. I did not want it to end. This book made me feel like a good parent by the time I finished.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 13, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Torres manages to inject beauty into what would otherwise be, a dark, depressing little book about love and neglect and growing-up male.

    I had mixed feelings with this one. I was impressed by its fierceness. It's brutal and honest and the images that Torres creates are unforgettable. He definitely has a way with words and it's obvious to me, that he poured a lot of himself into these boys when creating these characters. But, the format of the novel is not like traditional novels. It's really a collection of vignettes and one of the things that I noticed right off, is that as soon as I found myself fully absorbed, Torres moves on to the next scene which left me sitting there, wanting more. This is a debut novel for Torres and it was beautifully written and parts of it literally made my heart ache, but I feel as if he experimented a bit with what to include and what not to include and perhaps it was too lean. At just 144 pages, I think he had room to not only scratch the surface, but really give us a feel for his narrator as the story is told from the youngest brother's point of view. This is one of those instances where the writing won me over. Although the structure of it didn't work for me, I was taken with the prose and I had no trouble appreciating the amount of work that went into constructing each, and every sentence. Broken apart, each sentence could stand on its own, which made it almost like reading a poem, if that makes any sense at all. In the end, I would absolutely read another novel by Torres and I'm glad that I had a chance to experience his writing.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 31, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    An Emotionally Challenging Novel is Here...

    We the Animals is a coming-of-age story like nothing I've ever read before. It is sometimes shocking, sometimes funny, heartwarming and maybe even a little scary because of how it affects you on such a personal level.
    Three boys, raising hell in Brooklyn, following in the footsteps of passionate parents, doing everything they can think of, making chaos, loving fiercely.
    It almost felt like I was a peeping-Tom into the window of someone's very private family life. Sometimes I wondered what motivated them, then that was answered in the next breath as they held tight to each other.
    The book is not very long. You can easily read it in a day. Don't think you can skim it though because it is too emotionally electrifying to be able to just skim over pages. Every page is important. Every word. Justin Torres seems charming and full of life and perhaps a little innocent.
    This book is for anyone who wants to be challenged to think about family ties and how our early years affect us.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2012

    Weird Ending

    Most books are a good story and the author drops the ball when writing the ending. This is not the case here. There is a weird twist I won't give away, but the book takes an unexpected turn that I still have not wrapped my brain around. I still haven't decided if I like the ending yet. Maybe that is a good thing because books rarely make you think anymore....

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 30, 2012

    Anonymous

    I just paid $10 for 89 pages of NOTHING. This was NOT listed as a SHORT story. What a RIP OFF! I am outraged, I want my money BACK. This was a horribly written story about about a horribly disfunctional family. There is no plot, no storyline, the characters definitely not likable. It was really.hard to follow the story, just a bunch of fumbling, mumbeling bunch of people with absolutely no purpose in life. I think all those 5 stars and raving reviews came from family and friends. Justin Torrres may think he is in with the the big league authors, but he doesn't even come close. Not when he doesn't have a style to his writing, it's choppy and unsmooth and definitely does not have a way with words, except the vulgar ones. If I could give ZERO stars I would!
    I'll say it again WHAT A RIP OFF! Justin Torres should be ashamed of himself. $10 for a few lousy pages. Unbelievable!
    Readers beware.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2012

    Completely meretricious.

    Basically, this book isn't much more than "The Jerry Springer Show" condensed into a novella. If you enjoy seeing children physically and sexually abused and can't stand plot or character development, then this book is up your alley. Bonus! Four out of the five rave reviews on the back cover were written by Torres's creative writing teachers--if you don't believe me, look at the acknoledgements.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2012

    Amazing

    Even though i have not read the book it looks amazing -M

    1 out of 24 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2011

    Very disappointed

    I was anticipating this book as I had heard a good review and an interview with the author. I found it to be trite and I read it to the last page waiting for something to draw me in, either with emotion or with craft but I found nothing to recommend it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 3, 2011

    I was disappointed.

    I was disappointed with this book. I ordered it because of a glowing review on NPR. I read the book; but wished I had tried to check it out of the public library instead. I have deleted the Nook Book from my Nook library.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 19, 2011

    Original

    Well written, heartbreaking story

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 13, 2014

    Beautifully writing, like a poem. I savored the language and was

    Beautifully writing, like a poem. I savored the language and was swept up by the way it opened like a flower, revealing itself bit by bit. More, Mr. Torres, more!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2014

    Not worth the time

    The heading says it all.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2014

    Words. Empty. Flat.

    What a terrible ending. And I don't mean in terms of a gripping ending. It was nonsensical; flat; ugly. The descriptions were not even human like. Just ugly words that told no story in the end.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2014

    Short and pointless

    I would not have purchased had I known it was a short story!
    The description should have made that clear. The writing was choppy and the ending was horrible.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2014

    It is horible

    I hate it. if i could do 0/5 stars i would do that

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2014

    We the animals

    Is a good book about three boys living in some where.the boys mother is having haedaches backaches and confosed i think the three boys go to school .The mother works at a grave yard .the dad past away the boys a troble once the boys where smaching tomatoes then when they go to bed they fight for the cover antel the middle rips. The book is a good book.i hope you all love this as moch as i did.As this book gose on it is a sad happy and some what advatecs . As this book is good i rate it five stars as i go on in this book i belive that its one of the best .
    The book has at on go book its like jack and annie advateing the book has a pernol voice . The auther has a good thatse in making books. I hope you all love this book the next book with this aother . I cant wait for the next book with this acherther thanks

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 68 Customer Reviews

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