4 reviews

We the Animals: A novel
by Justin Torres

Published: 2011-08-30
Hardcover : 126 pages
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Recommended to book clubs by 2 of 4 members
"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

An exquisite, blistering debut novel

Three brothers tear their way ...
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"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

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.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.



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, leatherwhipped. 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, fi re 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 stifl ed 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 fi x 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. view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

1. How does the opening chapter, “We Wanted More,” serve to introduce the rest of the novel? What do you learn about the narrator and his brothers?

2. Now look at the brothers individually—who is Manny, Joel, the youngest brother? What sets them apart? At what point do you begin to see them separate? What separates them? Why doesn’t the youngest have a name?

3. Look at the three brothers as whole—the “we” of the title. What characterizes them as a whole? How do they operate as one unit? Why is it important that there are three?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

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.

Book Club Recommendations

Caution re subject matter
by FTessa (see profile) 05/28/13
If you have members who are particularly averse to homosexual encounters or rough language this is NOT the book for them.

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "A Challenging Read"by FTessa (see profile) 05/28/13

Torres's debut novel, We The Animals, is a challenging read. Written in a unique style of prose poetry, it tells the story of three brothers growing up in upstate New York. Our book group was engaged and... (read more)

  "Couldn't put it down"by tukees (see profile) 09/30/12

Just can't say enough about this incredible this book. I started this book in the evening and could not put it down until I was finished later that night. This is the book you recommend to y... (read more)

  "We The Animals: A Novel"by Lynn2 (see profile) 01/13/12

The beginning of this book was true to the title. The description of the boys home life was detailed and interesting. About the time that the story should be wrapping up it ended abruptly. There seemed... (read more)

  "We the Animals"by jmpainting (see profile) 01/12/12

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