There is something about We the Animals that pushes the reader forward. Perhaps it is in how it begins – “We wanted more” – that speaks as much about the characters in this novel as it does the movement of the reader through its pages. I wanted to learn more – about these brothers and their family and their life.
It is a tough life that begins when the youngest of the brothers is six, but it is more than a story about growing up. These boys, mixed race children born to teenage parents who obviously don’t have enough to get by, exist in a tension that you know has to break and you don’t know how it will. There are these moments throughout the novel’s time span when you think it will break, that you think something will change. You’re not sure if it’s for the better or for the worse. You’re not sure if it’s an end or a beginning. And all this tension you feel is what these boys are feeling – what the youngest of these boys tell. Ultimately, it is this narrator’s story – told through a simple voice that captures, at times, moments of awe-striking insight and detail.
Justin Torres wraps the complex in layers of innocence, but also complicates innocence as it juts against the complex. I leave this book thinking about about how innocence can be an almost false impression, about truths and lies and how you might not be able to pull them apart. Somewhere in the madness, I leave this book not wanting more because “more” might be too much. At the same time, the book reaches a point that is too much because it has to be…because maybe too much is what is needed for everything to be okay.
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