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We the Animals

3.6 of 5 stars 3.60  ·  rating details  ·  9,530 ratings  ·  1,567 reviews
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 th
Hardcover, 128 pages
Published August 30th 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2011)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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switterbug (Betsey)
I usually find something to commend on most every book I read, some aspect that strikes the right note. Sadly, this is one of two books I’ve read (to completion) in the past five years(that was hailed and cooed by the titans of publishing)that I thought was trash. This unimpressive debut generated out-of-the-gate praise because of politics, a pretense of social importance. The racial theme, the gay theme. As stereotypical as it is, it is surprisingly anointed. I have to wonder who is praising? C ...more
Pretty damn tremendous.

A lyrical evocation of a strange, violent, impoverished childhood, with the rough edges sanded off by language so that the whole book has the feel of a fever dream. The chapters are each self-contained short stories, more or less, each like a stiff shot of whiskey, each a glimpse of some event in the lives of a poor family growing up in Northern New York a few decades past.

Some readers complain about the language being "over workshopped," but I think that's a bunk bit of
We the Animals is about three "half-breed" brothers being brought up in Brooklyn by a Puerto Rican dad and a white mother. Why animals, you ask? As one might expect in these dysfunctional-families-equal-sales times, "Paps" likes to beat the ever living purgatory out of "Ma" and occasionally, for good measure, out of his little hellions, too. At the novella's (talking 125 pp., folks) start, the narrator son is, at age 7, the youngest, and the three amigos are separated by three years.

This fact ca
Paul Bryant

Self-regardingly box-ticking like a preening popinjay of American literary workshops (oh how I loathe that word), We the Animals bounds into our readerly arena like a snow leopard but it turns out to be your neighbour’s moggy with an off-white rug draped over it.

I thought it wasn’t anywhere near the five-star foams nor yet the one-star fleshtearing burn-the-witch gnashes neither. It was a damned 3 star not-bad what-else-have-you-got kind of God-damned normally novelised autobiography/shortstory
Oct 15, 2011 A rated it 1 of 5 stars
Shelves: read-2011
Here's a review in keeping with the half-baked animal theme supposedly running through this "novel": this book is horseshit. As both a homosexual and a publishing professional, I am ashamed that this is what is considered laudable queer literature these days. This is an intermittently interesting but preciously overwrought series of writing exercises in that unpleasant, twee, self-fellating "MFA style" we know and hate, haphazardly strung together so it eventually gags on its own crap like in Th ...more
Isa K.
This book was sitting in the pile of galleys up to my knees. It was among the books I handed over to my best friend to borrow and hopefully never return... When she saw it she told me "I think you better keep this one, it looks like something you might like."


This is a BEAUTIFUL, dark, funny, shocking book. It's like a Peurto Rican Catcher in the Rye if you will. Written like a series of connected, yet stand alone short stories it's one of those literary reads that is a pleasure to go throu
Three brothers three musketeers mixed race. They talk of their experiences and coming of age, their embarrassments, their fears, their joys and pain. Life in it's truest forms no fake facades, fairy tale stories. Souls that try to survive and be happy against the odds against prejudices and the concrete jungle. The family ups and downs father drinking, father hitting on ma, mum and dad just plain in love. The joys of brotherhood makes you want to be young again surrounded by siblings.
This story
11/27/11 -started 11/28/11 - finished.

I did not like it. And I'm having a hard time finding the appropriate words to put into description of how it left me feeling. I really didn't like it. I only finished it because it was a short book and because I don't like leaving things unfinished. I so hoped that as I continued to read that there would be more purpose to it than to just say "look at us". It lacked on so many levels and left so many half painted images hanging in space.

This book seemed to
Jo Anne B
Very disappointing. This book did not work. The writing was choppy, disjointed, and incoherent. Sometimes authors do this to seem unconventional and unique having some profound insight that makes them seem worthy of greatness. In reality, they are just bad writers. The subject matter was ripe with stereotypes that were quite offensive. A poor Puerto Rican family filled with abuse, violence, and sex. Parents having sex in front of their three young sons, a mother beat up with two black eyes, pare ...more
This is a real, though flawed, masterpiece. Though the author and publisher market it as a novel, except in a loose sense, this classification does not fully fit. The book, in fact, is remarkable for how it is genre-bending----maybe an epic string of prose-poems. The care used in choice of words and choice of incidents recounted is masterfully poetic.
The book is also masterful in its depth of humanity and in its right-on exploration of human experience not usually explored in serious literature.
Lauren Moore
We the Animals is a unique, beautiful, and truly disturbing portrait of a troubled family. I can't think of another novel that so convincingly depicts the desperation and insanity of abusive relationships. The family unit functions as a single wild entity, each family member unable to define himself outside of these relationships.

I was completely entranced by the undulating family dynamic (all the shifts are subtle and masterful) until the jarring ending. The narrator isn't drawn strongly enoug
Jeffrey Perkins
I finished reading the novel this afternoon on my back porch among an extended family of potted plants, looking out on their wild cousins.

It’s a short book and I read it slow. I read a chapter before a meal, a chapter on the bus going into the city, I read a chapter in the morning drinking my cup of coffee. I read it quietly and slowly and during the day.

I didn’t read it at night. I quickly understood that reading this book was the opposite of going to sleep. I knew I would want to do more with
Will Byrnes
Harsh, raw, powerful, uplifting, depressing, disappointing, brilliant. This tale of three brothers and their parents is told in the form of 19 chapters or short stories and it will generate a response.

There are times when the writing seems forced, clumsy or uninformed. In one story, The Lake, the boys' mother, from Brooklyn, claims that no one swims in Brooklyn. May I direct your attention to the southern edge of the borough, home to Coney Island, Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach, and with ready
Feb 05, 2012 Sara rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Sara by: Scott
I sat down and read this little number in one go, which I think worked for this book until the ending. The flow was effortless until "The Night I am Made", which may or may not have been intentional on Torres' part, I have no idea.

What to say about this book. I can understand the hype. I don't know if I agree with the hype, but I understand it. Torres' writing is lyrical and quite lovely. It did evoke emotions from me, though mostly feelings of disgust, distaste and distress. That's a lot of "di
Alguien ha cogido un trozo de carne sangrante y la ha encuadernado. Cuando un ingenuo como yo se acerca a sus páginas, no se espera encontrar los vasos sanguíneos bombeando entre líneas. Las palabras se convierten en puro follaje para ocultar que aquello que tienes entre las manos es algo que continúa vivo, que lejos de agonizar, está luchando con garras y dientes para convertirte en una presa más. La sintaxis está asalvajada, los personajes ladran en cuanto pueden y la amenaza de acorralar al l ...more
I feel like people look at small books, especially in hardcover, and pass as they think it will be nothing more than a silly little trifle. Something too quick, too insubstantial and too expensive to invest in. We the Animals might be the antidote to that sort of (silly, limited) thinking. And as a person who doesn't always love poetic/not terribly linear prose, Torres also served as a kind of antidote to my own (silly, limited) thinking.

I'm not sure just how I feel yet, having finished the boo
Roof Beam Reader
By far the best book of 2011. Not sure what to say about those reviewers who believe this book has no literary merit or that Torres is a bad writer. The book is brilliant - yes, it is short. Yes, it is sparse. No, it is not a linear plot, being episodic. But it cuts deeply - if you can set yourself aside for a moment and really sink into the story, imagine what life was like for this family, for this young boy - so different from anyone else he knew.. it seems impossible not to 'get it.' Unfortu ...more
this is a shorter story...125 pages a reviewer or two has said...i read it in a few hours...2-3+

the story told from the perspective of what we learn is a 7-year-old boy...(he has a birthday and his mother wants him to stay six...six plus one year, six plus two...whatever.

a strange family, strange in that the father either one dry humps the mother in the bathroom, her ass on the white porcelain sink, her back pressed into the faucet and mirror, or he focks her dearly while the boys....take a bath
Elements of the anyalyst's couch and writer's workshops are distilled into variations on the term FERAL. I liked the prose, the hidden meaning of those darkened events from a child's perspective. I didn't appreciate the concluding chapters, much as I didn't those of Lampedusa's The Leopard; there is no need for a teleolgy within such vehicles. There is quite a future for this novelist.
Jenny (adultishbooks)
As I was reading this, I couldn't quite put my finger on what was not jiving with me. Then I read the bio and saw the author is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. OF COURSE.

This book is trying too hard to look like it wasn't trying too hard. The melodramtic themes of domestic violence, poverty, and sexual awakening did not manipulate me. The story is a little over 120 pages but I was bored. I've never been a fan of the vignette style of novel (I did not like House on Mango Street) and so
Rebecca Foster
Torres’s debut novel reminded me very much of Julie Otsuka’s The Buddha in the Attic: both are achingly sad tales told largely through the collective perspective of the first-person plural, which, thanks to the novella length, mostly stays fresh and effective.

Our narrator is the youngest of three boys, half Puerto Rican and half white, who have to ‘tumble up’ like Dickens’s Jellyby children due to the hapless pseudo-neglect of their working class parents in upstate New York. Their violent, mercu
I watch the interview with Justin Torres on Youtube- and I compare that to the book and you wonder if some of this is right from the author’s life. But, this is a work of fiction even though it feels real when you read about the three brothers, how they grow up in a semi-dysfunctional family.
There’s love in the family. But everything seems magnified. Passion, anger, love, everything. The boys deal with a father who is abusive to their mother. A mother who, when the d
K.M. Soehnlein
Writers who attempt to tell a story from the point of view of a young child usually struggle with voice -- you either create a protagonist who sounds too old for his age, or you dumb down the language so that it winds up feeling simply childish. Justin Torres has come up with something unique: a lyrical, descriptive and sensory narration filled with wonder and mystery. The reader fills in some of the gaps, and is left questioning the meaning of other moments, either one step ahead of the narrato ...more
I was in Bowling Green this week and had a few hours to spend in Barnes & Noble, so I grabbed a copy of this book and found a chair in a corner. There's been a lot of hype surrounding this book, and I wanted to check it out because Torres is one of the authors who will be attending the Southern Festival of Books in October in Nashville; I was curious if his session was one I wanted to attend.

The writing is what I expected -- it's edgy and lyrical and Torres' voice is consistent and distincti
There are some very powerful scenes here, but I'm not satisfied with how they came together. The last few chapters are rushed and not paced with the rest of the novel. Also, not sure if it's a novel or strung together stories or Torres' memoir, thinly disguised. Not that that's such a problem, I'm just not sure what to do with this angst he's burdened me with...Great potential for a great next novel, if he still has enough passion left in him.
Quick and manic read about three brothers being raised in chaos. Title and cover design are brilliant. Chapters read as linked vignettes and the reveal was a bit over the top. (view spoiler).

Still, glad I read it and not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.
This is a relatively short book, so it might seem pointless to say that I found myself unable to put the book down, yet that is exactly what happened. While I read almost continuously (and I would were it possible), I do not read fast so I was fully expecting to read through this over a couple days and several sittings. Instead I read it over night, spending that I should have spent sleeping compulsively reading chapter after chapter. The prose style Torres uses is crisp, light and literally (at ...more
My final impression of this book was that it was a modernized version of The House on Mango Street told from a male protagonist. But while Mango Street was more poetry than prose, this one, delightfully so, was the opposite.

There was a discernible beat and rhythm to this novel. It felt alive with youth and boyishness, for these boys were rough and tumble and adventurous, and each chapter felt filled with the promise of the same. The style of each chapter was almost like a standalone short st
El sentimentalismo de la pobreza y de la violencia se esconde en estas páginas. Unas páginas sangrientas. A veces tiernas, a veces crueles, tan crueles y tan tiernas como la propia niñez. Pequeños relatos aislados que juntos suman un intenso aunque breve recorrido por todas las habitaciones de una pequeña casa del Brooklyn de los ochenta. Un viaje por una mente que se va desarrollando poco a poco. Una historia con garras, que te clava las uñas según te vas aproximando al final. Y con una prosa n ...more
Sep 11, 2011 tina added it
I really like the title of this book. As many probably know, in Spanish poor kids are often refered to "animalitos," both sympathetically and derogatively. By translating these three words as a title, the author conveys the narrator's family, his mixed culture, and his struggle with identity. What's nice is Torres never abandons his theme.
I wouldn't compare this book to Cisneros. While the prose is simple, the substance differs. Cisneros work, as I recall, felt tremendously grounded. Though con
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Lina and the mother 1 23 Apr 28, 2014 06:54AM  
Literary Fiction ...: Discussion: We The Animals 110 145 Dec 31, 2011 08:44PM  
  • Lost Memory of Skin
  • Slow Lightning
  • Ladies and Gentlemen
  • The Sojourn
  • Love and Shame and Love
  • Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa
  • We Sinners
  • The Orchard: A Memoir
  • Mother of Sorrows
  • The Call
  • The Bee-Loud Glade
  • Speedboat
  • The Tragedy of Arthur
  • The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination
  • More of This World or Maybe Another
  • If You Knew Then What I Know Now
  • Edinburgh
  • Orientation: And Other Stories
JUSTIN TORRES grew up in upstate New York. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Tin House, Glimmer Train, and other publications. 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.
More about Justin Torres...
Reverting to a Wild State Nosotros los animales / We the animals Creating Infographics That Work - October 2013 (Bigger Law Firm Magazine Book 24) Wilde Stories 2012: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction Dismantle: An Anthology of Writing from the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop

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“We hit and we kept on hitting; we were allowed to be what we were, frightened and vengeful — little animals, clawing at what we needed.” 10 likes
“This is your heritage,' he said, as if from this dance we could know about his own childhood, about the flavor and grit of tenement buildings in Spanish Harlem, and projects in Red Hook, and dance halls, and city parks, and about his own Paps, how he beat him, how he taught him to dance, as if we could hear Spanish in his movements, as if Puerto Rico was a man in a bathrobe, grabbing another beer from the fridge and raising it to drink, his head back, still dancing, still steeping and snapping perfectly in time.” 9 likes
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