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We the Animals

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3.61  ·  Rating details ·  11,749 Ratings  ·  1,821 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
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Hardcover, 128 pages
Published August 30th 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Trina Hi. Former high school teacher here. It is a gorgeous, high-interest book and I think it would be accessible and enjoyable to the students you…moreHi. Former high school teacher here. It is a gorgeous, high-interest book and I think it would be accessible and enjoyable to the students you describe. Proceed with caution. Depending on how conservative/religious your community is, there are several moments that might not fly with parents. For example, there's a scene in which Paps and Ma have sex while the boys are in the room (not too graphic, but quite descriptive). If administration approves the book, they might require you to obtain permission/acknowledgment. Definitely run it by your department head and/or principal, and be prepared for some squirming and giggling from the students.(less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Will Byrnes
Oct 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
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
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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
Fabian
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
Michael
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
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Ken
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
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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
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A
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
CGregory
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
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Margaret
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
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
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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."

OH BOY

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
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Lou
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
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Lauren Moore
Aug 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
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Roof Beam Reader (Adam)
Sep 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, gay-lit
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
Roxane
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
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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
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Sara
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
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Sergsab
Jan 22, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Lisa
Aug 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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wally
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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Sheila
Aug 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I watch the interview with Justin Torres on Youtube- http://youtu.be/eY2hfaWaLUM 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
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Jenny (adultishbooks)
Aug 29, 2015 rated it it was ok
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
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Kathrina
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.
Ryan Horner (FTLORyan)
jesus wow this book is a heavy hitter in a slim package. 130 short pages is all it takes, apparently, to make Ryan run the whole gamut from laughing out loud to stomach-turning dread to free-falling tears. jesus. wow.
Audrey
Sep 02, 2011 rated it liked it
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
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K.M. Soehnlein
Oct 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jonfaith
Jan 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Salathiel
Jul 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
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Rick
Sep 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
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Lina and the mother 1 27 Apr 28, 2014 06:54AM  
Literary Fiction ...: Discussion: We The Animals 110 158 Dec 31, 2011 08:44PM  
  • Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa
  • Ladies and Gentlemen
  • Orientation: And Other Stories
  • Slow Lightning
  • Volt
  • Zipper Mouth
  • The Sojourn
  • Bogeywoman
  • The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination
  • The Orchard: A Memoir
  • The Wake of Forgiveness
  • Edinburgh
  • The Empty Family
  • Love and Shame and Love
  • Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America
  • The Book of Life
  • What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank
  • The Inverted Forest
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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.
More about Justin Torres...

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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.” 12 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.” 10 likes
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