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We the Animals

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  16,407 ratings  ·  2,355 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
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Ming No. NO! As former high school student, I do not recommend this book. I cannot see why you would consider having this book for your students. If you ne…moreNo. NO! As former high school student, I do not recommend this book. I cannot see why you would consider having this book for your students. If you need diverse titles, this is not the way to do it...por favor!(less)

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 ·  16,407 ratings  ·  2,355 reviews

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Will Byrnes
Oct 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.

Justin Torres - image from WPSU at Penn State

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, B
Jan 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
I get it. I get why three people TOTAL have recommended this one to me. It is the shortest type of experience, the most meaningful for its inherent scarcity-- a novella. It can be read during one dull hour, perhaps two. This way, the author is assured at least ONE TRUE reading of his work, which is powerful to say the least. But isn't there-- very much like the wave of Latin music in the late 90's--a new wave of Puerto Rican authors given a voice? Junot won the Pulitzer during the last decade... ...more
switterbug (Betsey)
Oct 14, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: books-i-abhor
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
Kelly (and the Book Boar)
Find all of my reviews at:

Since my daily commute is so short and I only listen to audio books in the car Monday-Friday, I’m always struggling to find a selection that works for me. When I saw my friend Matthew’s review of We the Animals, I thought it might be a good fit. I also thought it was a young adult book for some reason, but soon realized . . . . .

While the characters in this story are children, the content most definitely is not and focuses on grow
Adam Dalva
Jan 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I reviewed We The Animals for Guernica Magazine - over the years, it has become a very important book in my understanding of contemporary fiction. The film comes out this month, so now it is a perfect time to read it! ...more
Dec 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 19, 2013 rated it liked it
This is a gorgeous book with fierce ideas. The family is exceptionally rendered and race and sexuality are approached in new ways here. Torres does a fine job of capturing the rambunctious energy of young boys being raised rough by parents who don't quite get it right with their children or each other.

Where this book falters is in that it is meager. It is not as fleshed out as it needs to be and there's a bit of a twist at the end of the book that is rushed and out of place when it doesn't need
Oct 14, 2011 rated it did not like it
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
Aug 01, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: finished-in-2011
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
Feb 14, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: novels

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
Dec 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"Always more, always hungrily scratching for more."

I started reading this just before I had to switch off the light, but had to finish this raw, heartbreaking novel in one sitting - luckily for me it comes in at under 150 pages.

I was hooked by the poetic yet urgent quality of the writing from page one, and I thought the we/us POV of the three brothers in many parts of the book was unique and powerful.

What I loved most about this book (except for the exquisite writing) is that the author portra
Jul 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
This short (128 pages) novel with its first person plural (we, not I) narrator proceeds through short snapshot chapters to tell the story of three brothers (the we) growing up in a quasi-dysfuntional family in upstate NY state. The father (Paps) is Puerto Rican and the mother is white (no more details available); both are from Brooklyn and moved upstate after their very early marriage (he 16, she 14). Both parents work at what jobs they can get, and the three boys bring themselves up in those lo ...more
Oct 19, 2019 rated it it was ok
Our October bookclub choice and we have now met so I can share my thoughts.

An autobiographical tale, author Justin Torress' unnamed narrator tells us about three brothers in a series of vignettes that shows their upbringing. At first, the three are inseparable and then as time wears on our narrator finds himself more "other" than a part of "we."

Like my fellow bookclub members, I was invested until the author took a side road to complete the arc of his story that many of us weren't expecting.
Nov 27, 2011 rated it did not like it
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
Jennifer Gaarder
view my reviews at

We the Animals is about three brothers soaring through life with ma and paps. They smash tomatoes and lotion on each other, build kites with trash, and hide in the crawlspace while their parents fight. They also have to be silent as their mother sleeps for her graveyard shift at the brewery. Paps and Ma are from Brooklyn- he's Puerto Rican and she's white-their love is a dangerous thing that serious and deep.

Life in this family is utter chaos and dysf
Jeffrey Perkins
Sep 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jo Anne B
Oct 10, 2011 rated it did not like it
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
Isa K.
Jul 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: galleys
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
Jul 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: october-reading
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
Roof Beam Reader (Adam)
Sep 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: gay-lit, favorites
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
Martie Nees Record
Sep 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Slim enough to read in an hour and yet the unnamed narrator stayed with me for days.
Sonja Arlow
4.5 stars

Exquisite painful disturbing writing that will leave you a little uncomfortable at times and amazed at others.

For a book that is only 128 pages this packs an hella punch.

I loved the collective feel of the narrative. The 3 brothers isolated by circumstance, mongrel status and upbringing and how their frustrations, fear and joy manifested itself.

The story of their homelife is not a new one but the way it was told is utterly unique.

I initially did not want to give this 5 stars as the end
Hussein Baher
"Upright, upright," I say, I slur, I vow.

The over-the-top metaphorical and lyrical writing might annoy some readers, i find it to be hunting and creative instead,
delivering a fantastical experience.
I would highly suggest watching the movie that although the book was good the movie was in my opinion even better. If you're finding trouble appreciating this, the movie shall help.
Jan 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
12/30/18: Re-read after viewing the acclaimed, award-winning film version, which hews fairly closely to much of the original novel, although the ending in the book is slightly bleaker and more powerful. Although my rating hasn't changed, I was reminded of how highly crafted the book is, which was a complaint from many of the naysayers (... as if sloppy writing were some kind of virtue?). It's too bad Torres has not followed this up with any full-length fiction in the 7 years since publication.

Nov 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lgbtqueue-it-up
Very impressed by Justin Torres. In 125 pages, he presents a complete, subtle, short, brutal, beautiful transformation from the family unit of childhood to the scarred and loved individual that emerges. Given that it's so brief, I don't want to say too much. The chapters are capable of literally shocking memories out of you -- each is a little visceral tale that wholly hones in on those feelings from youth (a comfortable afternoon with Mom, familial respect-both deserved and forced, sibling prot ...more
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
Sep 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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.
Feb 05, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Aug 16, 2011 rated it liked it
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.
Oct 14, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: torres
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
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Chapter discussion: The Night I Am Made 1 18 Mar 10, 2018 12:40PM  
Latinx Lit UConn: Emotion as a Human Instinct 1 4 Dec 18, 2017 07:44AM  
Latinx Lit UConn: We The Readers 1 2 Dec 18, 2017 07:15AM  
We The Readers 1 4 Dec 18, 2017 07:13AM  
Emotion as a Human Instinct 1 3 Dec 18, 2017 06:27AM  
Latinx Lit UConn: We the Animals Book Review 1 4 Dec 16, 2017 05:17PM  
Latinx Lit UConn: we the animals- Julia 1 3 Dec 14, 2017 06:57AM  

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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.

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“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.” 14 likes
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