"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."
"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."
"First-time novelist Justin Torres unleashes We the Animals (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), a gorgeous, howling coming-of-age novel that will devour your heart."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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"
"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
…[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
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
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
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.)
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
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.