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The epic, unforgettable story of a man determined to protect the woman he loves from the town desperate to destroy her—this beautiful and devastating debut heralds the arrival of a major new voice in fiction.

Ephram Jennings has never forgotten the beautiful girl with the long braids running through the piney woods of Liberty, their small East Texas town. Young Ruby, "the kind of pretty it hurt to look at," has suffered beyond imagining, so as soon as she can, she flees suffocating Liberty for the bright pull of 1950s New York. Ruby quickly winds her way into the ripe center of the city--the darkened piano bars and hidden alleyways of the Village--all the while hoping for a glimpse of the red hair and green eyes of her mother. When a telegram from her cousin forces her to return home, thirty-year-old Ruby Bell finds herself reliving the devastating violence of her girlhood. With the terrifying realization that she might not be strong enough to fight her way back out again, Ruby struggles to survive her memories of the town's dark past. Meanwhile, Ephram must choose between loyalty to the sister who raised him and the chance for a life with the woman he has loved since he was a boy.

Full of life, exquisitely written, and suffused with the pastoral beauty of the rural South, Ruby is a transcendent novel of passion and courage. This wondrous page-turner rushes through the red dust and gossip of Main Street, to the pit fire where men swill bootleg outside Bloom's Juke, to Celia Jennings's kitchen where a cake is being made, yolk by yolk, that Ephram will use to try to begin again with Ruby. Utterly transfixing, with unforgettable characters, riveting suspense, and breathtaking, luminous prose, Ruby offers an unflinching portrait of man's dark acts and the promise of the redemptive power of love.

368 pages, Paperback

First published April 29, 2014

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About the author

Cynthia Bond

5 books375 followers
CYNTHIA BOND is a New York Times Best-Selling Author. Her novel RUBY was chosen to be an Oprah Book Club 2.0 selection. RUBY was also a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, and an Indie Next Pick. A PEN Rosenthal Fellow, Bond attended Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, then moved to New York and attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She founded the Blackbird Writing Collective in 2011. Cynthia has taught writing to at-risk and homeless youth for over fifteen years, and is on staff at Paradigm Malibu Adolescent Treatment Center. She is currently completing the second book in the RUBY Trilogy. A native of East Texas, she lives in Los Angeles with her daughter.

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5 stars
3,867 (26%)
4 stars
4,787 (33%)
3 stars
3,494 (24%)
2 stars
1,476 (10%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,509 reviews
Profile Image for Shelby *trains flying monkeys*.
1,573 reviews5,898 followers
March 16, 2015
How do I give this book five stars? It rips your soul out of your body with it's strong, dark presence. You beg to be released from the grips of this story. This one ain't farting rainbow unicorns, boys and girls.

Ephram Jennings met young Ruby when she and her cousin happen upon him fishing in the local pond. They take him with them to meet with the local voodoo woman Ma Tante. This sets the tone for the book and the author brings alive the scene and scared the crap outta me. She sees that Ruby has "haints" attached to her and lost souls are following her around.
Ma Tante reached out and grabbed Ruby's right hand. She turned over her palm and pointed. "You got the mystic star. There." She took her other hand. "There, too. Lord child you ain't nothing but a doorway. How many haints you count at your heels?"

Ruby ends up going to New York with the deep buried want of finding her mother. Who left Ruby as an infant. Ruby's life. I don't even know where to begin. You would think escaping the small town life of Liberty would have changed things for her. Those haints that follow her never let up.
Ruby carried the quarter close to her, then opened her palm. The word "Liberty" hung like a banner over the White man's head, which made it easy for Ruby to know whom it was promised to. Both word and coin. With God's trust and blessing.
Ruby does return to Liberty after receiving news from a family member that they need her. Once there she is used by the men in town and shunned by the so called religious women. Then Ephram remembers that girl he fell in love with when they were children and sets out to take her some of his sister Celia's cake.
Celia is up for "Church Mother" and once Ephram takes up with the devil woman she sees it as her righteous duty to help him see the error of his ways. Along with the townspeople.
It wasn't just the exhibition of sin that Celia Jennings had painted so beautifully during testimony that morning, it was the pure, unadulterated, juicy, unholy spectacle of the thing. The scarecrow crazy whore of Liberty had taken up with the township's mule of a deacon. It was the best piece of gossip the town had had to chew on in twenty-three years.

There's a line in the book that Ephram says to Ruby: If you can bear to have lived it, I can at least bear to listen. that thought stayed with me as I read this book.
It's not going to be a book that everyone loves. It features inhuman cruelty, rape, incest, false religion and just pure evil. Through it all though the author's voice rings true.

Five standing ovation stars.

I received a copy of this book from blogging for books in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Jessica McCann.
Author 4 books197 followers
June 23, 2014
My personal rule has long been to only rate and review books I enjoyed reading. Not every book is for every person. A book I dislike may be a book you love. To each his or her own. Yet, for RUBY, I'm breaking my rule. This book was not at all what the jacket or summary described, and I feel that a strong warning to potential readers is necessary.

There are many positive reviews for RUBY, and I can understand why to a certain extent. There were some things I loved about it. The book contains beautiful, lyrical writing, and the author does an amazing job of pulling the reader into the time and place by showing, never telling. The opening line grabbed me and the first few chapters held on to me, captivated me. The two main characters are well-developed, complex, deeply flawed, yet likable. The premise of the story, as described in the summary, is exactly what I love in a book -- gritty, thought-provoking, unflinching, and containing "the promise of the redemptive power of love" in the face of brutal hardship.

Yet, the book is not as advertised. While the summary hints at "dark" acts, that is by no means enough warning for what lies within the pages of RUBY. This book contains many lengthy, detailed, graphic, scenes of incest, rape, murder, prostitution and other violence against children and adults of both sexes (as well as Black Magic sacrifices involving animals). So many. Too many. Some of these scenes may have been necessary to fully convey the brutality the main characters suffered throughout their lives, so the reader can understand why they've made the choices they have, why they behave the way they do. But that was clear after three or four scenes. It's no exaggeration to say every chapter contained at least one scene (sometimes more) that turned my stomach. The book is sensationalistic, gratuitous and disturbing from beginning to end.

I did feel invested in the characters and wanted to know how the book ended, hoping for some shred of redemption or hope, as the summary promised. So I began skimming at about a 1/3 of the way through, skipping over those horrific scenes the best I could (scenes that were often many pages long) just to get to the end. It was not worth satisfying my curiosity. And that makes me sad, truly, because I know how much time and effort goes into writing a book, and it's clear the author is an extremely talented writer and storyteller.

This book could have been SO much more, if only an editor would have had the insight and courage to say, that's enough.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
464 reviews593 followers
April 19, 2015
As I read this book, high school football at Sayreville was shut down because of hazing and sexual allegations: deviant acts that caused widespread shock. I won't disclose them here because as I researched the specific incidents, I was sickened; however, should you choose to search beyond the mainstream banter, you could find answers. After the incident, school officials shut down the program not only because of the lewd acts (which thankfully, someone had the gall to stand up against a group of people with the indecency to utter things like: it was just hazing, so what?) but also because they could not understand how students could stand around and watch this take place? There is also an appalling YouTube video of parents who, despite the news, were in a town hall meeting, screaming at school officials because they dared shut down an athletic program that could produce financial results for their children.

Let's get to how this relates to Ruby, shall we?

What do you call a town that chooses to look the other way (or even participate) as children are sexually brutalized and trafficked? What do you call a white married man, who chooses to stay put, as white sheriffs gang rape and mutilate his black lover? Does it sound illogical, or logical, when you learn that money is at the heart of all of it? Perhaps this is the most important question: what do you think happens to people who see such things and choose to keep silent; how are their psychological lives affected by this?

These last questions seem to form the core of this brutally truthful, Southern gothic novel, which delves into the present and past psychological entanglement of the people once intertwined with the gruesome. Just like any Southern gothic, this novel is grotesque and disturbing, its traces of hoodoo haunting, and yet it is lyrically and structurally gorgeous. How this author weaves back and forth between back story in a seemingly easy manner, is just stunning. I leave out one star not because of the devastating darkness, but because of the repetition of a couple of too detailed and too descriptive dark scenes that leaves you wondering, before handing the book to another adult, whether you should include a brief disclaimer. There were a couple of moments when I found myself thinking, less would have been more (i.e.: both times we had to revisit the scene around the fire).

Ruby Bell is a character you don't forget, a Dorothy Dandridge lookalike who flees her town and gets to experience the New York literati scene, until she gets news of a friend's death and she decides to return to the south, just as the March on Washington begins. Her downward spiral, and the evolution of years of trauma on her soul, leaves you heartbroken: Ruby blinked. In that instant she saw what he saw...her ribcage loose with skin…the corrugated filth of her hair…the broken femur of her soul… She is tortured by memory, tortured by self loathing and abandonment and abuse and just about any other despicable thing you can consider, because Ruby Bell has probably had it happen to her. She finds love in the saddened and hopeful, Ephram Jennings, who sees her like no one else does, and finds solace with her that he hasn't found in all his life. Yet Ruby doesn't trust love. Her distrust of humans is so palpable, that it is no wonder she escapes the hurt by finding solace in living things that can't harm her. There is a moment when Bond goes into Ruby's child-mind, when she flashes back to a horrific childhood scene, and yet smoothes the impact with grace and poetics:
Then Ruby searched the dark of her own body and found a hiding place thick in the branches of the china berry. It held her safe, the leaves full, always green, the sky all stars and crickets…she saw her hand turned to bark; broken mahogany ridges. her fingers tiny living twigs, with golden beads dangling from them. Her torso melted into the trunk and her toes lay safe underground. They sky shook over her head, but Ruby was now the tree. She stood there safe and waited for the storm to pass.

I was enthralled by Cynthia Bond's lyricism and her regal performance via Random House's audio on Audible. She kept me in a trance that made it impossible to stop listening, even as tears were evident in her voice, even as her intonations ebbed and flowed with the scenes. I was transfixed. I found an interview she did after writing this book, where she mentioned hurting and needing an outlet to write (I'm paraphrasing here), so imagine the hurt she was able to pour into this novel that took years to write. It was over 900 pages but trimmed down to three books, she said. I can't stress how much I'm anticipating the next one because once I started this book, I sensed I was in the presence of a great writer. Reviewers say her work is reminiscent of Toni Morrison's. Well, if you've read Morrison's Paradise, perhaps you remember that the town was called Ruby, named after a woman mistreated. Ruby seems to be semi-symbolic. Yes, there were traces of The Bluest Eye, but I also saw traces of Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina and Hurston's Dust Tracks on a Road. I think it's safe to say that literary fiction can rest assured that Bond will be one of those authors who continues showcasing African American southern voices.

4.5 stars
Profile Image for Jen CAN.
486 reviews1,356 followers
July 27, 2015
***Phenomenal***The one word I can use to describe Cynthia Bond's debut novel. This story will take you to the depths of sadness and despair and raise you up with glimmers of hope and love. The story takes place in Liberty, Texas. An ironic name, given there is anything but, unless you are a man. It's a town where black magic is embedded in the soil and where evil works its way through the town's men. Ruby is a daughter of the community - her only parent having passed when she was 6. This is her story. Although a difficult read, Bond's writing is superb and the story lived and breathed for me. 5 star read.
Profile Image for Amanda.
282 reviews315 followers
May 28, 2014
I received an advanced reader's copy from the publisher in return for an honest review.

The small town of Liberty, Texas, offers its residents anything but liberty. People find themselves bound by secrets, both theirs and those of others. It's a place where God's word is in everyone's mouth, but it's the devil who rules their hearts--and he roams the woods at night. With hypocritical righteousness and dark intentions, the town turns as a whole on Ruby Bell. The beautiful and spirited Ruby is a modern day Eve whose beauty lures in both men and women, while putting her own soul in peril. When Ruby attempts to escape the darkness of Liberty, it's not long before her past draws her back into the town's clutches.

After her return to Liberty from New York City, Ruby's confrontation with the past draws her into madness. She becomes a wild thing, existing on the fringes of society, used by men to satisfy their lust and shunned by the women. Ephram Jennings, a quiet, patient man who still sees Ruby's hidden value, sets about saving her soul with the gift of an Angel Food cake and, in this simple gesture, takes on the prejudices of an entire town. Through Ephram's patient ministrations, we learn of the personal demons that haunt Ruby and of the tangled web of lies and violence that ultimately connect everyone in Liberty. While the narrative can seem somewhat disjointed and sudden revelations about characters can at first seem incongruous with what we already know of them, the reader can be assured that these seemingly disparate threads will ultimately be drawn together into a coherent portrait of a community destroying itself from the inside out.

Using poetic language and brutal, unrelenting scenes of physical and sexual violence, Ruby makes the intra-racial racism within an early 20th century black community tangible and reveals the dangers that come with spiritually cannibalizing one of its own. There are certainly overtones of Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison here, but Cynthia Bond is never guilty of cheap imitation and tells a story that is uniquely her own. Particularly inventive is the use of a supernatural element to explain how the desire for or claiming of "white power" within the black community transfers hate and prejudice to those who were once its targets.

This is not an easy book to read and those with a low tolerance for rape, pedophilia, and graphic sexual scenes need not apply. While I sometimes found the frequency of these scenes a bit over the top ("Please, just give me one, ONE character who had a healthy, wholesome childhood," I mentally begged), it's made bearable as the novel ends with the possibility of hope and redemption.

Cross posted at This Insignificant Cinder
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,285 reviews2,205 followers
May 15, 2015

The writing is elegant in so many places .

"Blackened nails as if she had scratched the slate of night. Her acres of legs carrying her , arms swaying like a loose screen. Her eyes the ink of sky, just before the storm."

"They stared at each other under the ancient sky with the soft rain and the full wet earth. More than anything Ephram wanted to talk to her and tell her things he'd kept locked in the storehouse of his soul. He wanted to talk to her about the way Rupert Shankle's melons split on the vine and how honeysuckle blossoms tasted light sunlight. He wanted to tell her that he had seen a part of the night sky resting in her eyes and that he knew it because it lived in him as well. He wanted to tell her about the knot about his heart and how he needed her to help to loose the binding ."

In spite of some of the beautiful passages , I had a difficult time reading this book . I was gut punched when I read of the unbearable violence and abuse . The brutality is gruesome in so many parts and it is sad throughout . It's filled with voodoo, haints ( ghosts I guess), and supernatural elements that were hard for me to grasp , yet these things seemed naturally part of the story . But still hard for me to understand what happened in the pine trees by the fire and the horrible abuse throughout . I'm not one to shy away from a tough read and I didn't give this one up but it just was so uncomfortable to read that I almost did.

In a conversation with the author at the end of the book, Bond says , "My own history of abuse informed this novel, as well. As a victim of human trafficking as a child, these stories and images filled my chest with horror, rage, and fear until I picked up a Pen and placed it upon the blank page. Writing Ruby became my salvation."

This is a very dark story and full of evil people but thankfully there was Ephram , there for Ruby and there representing the much needed possibility of hope. I was relieved it was over but glad that I stuck with it . Waiting for the next one .

Profile Image for Caroline .
418 reviews569 followers
April 6, 2021

Edited to add on 2/20/15: 1 star, or why Oprah really got it wrong with this selection.

(Full disclosure: book abandoned at page 62 [out of 326 pages].)

Sometimes when a story tries too hard to impress it ends up the exact opposite of what the author intends: mediocre. Such is the case with Ruby. Already in the first 62 pages it's clear author Cynthia Bond was overly ambitious, with the result being over-description and melodramatic characters.

Told partially in flashback form, this is the story of Ephram and Ruby, who first meet under an unusual circumstance as young adolescents. From this scene alone, it's clear Bond's characterization skills need honing; where main characters Ephram and Ruby are lifeless, the others in these opening pages are stereotypes. Most notable of these is a frightening old Creole woman with yellow eyes who's dedicated her life to sinister Voodoo enchantments. Much about the scene introducing her is clichéd, and there's a self-consciousness to the patois, as if Bond was trying too hard to prove how keen an ear she has for dialects and accents. An overly long scene involving her and these children is so over-the-top it would be laughable...except that it's almost impossible to visualize, never mind understand. This could perhaps be forgiven if the main characters were richly drawn and intriguing, but alas. The titular Ruby is a mere shadow in these pages, barely speaking--yet Ephram becomes instantly besotted with her and carries a torch for her right into the book's present day.

As the story shifts from the flashback to the present, adult Ephram is shown to be a sluggish, bland, bumbling type whose attempt at wooing Ruby involves bringing her angel food cake. Possibly Ephram is one main reason Ruby does not grip from the start. He's simply not at all compelling, yet Bond opened the story with a focus on him.

The only way Ruby succeeds in these opening pages is in its description, and it really only succeeds this way in part. Bond crafted a nice image here:
She made it in that pocket of time before dawn, when the aging night gathered its dark skirts and paused in the stillness. She made it with twelve eggs, still warm and flecked with feathers. She washed them and cracked them, one at a time, holding each golden yolk in her palm as the whites slid and dropped through her open fingers.
At other times, though, her plot gets crushed under the weight of over-description.

A blurb makes a fuss over her writing, boasting that the book is “exquisitely written,” and describing Bond as having “a sense of the poetry and power of Toni Morrison” and “a breathtaking, lyrical prose style all her own,” but Bond's style is mostly just self-conscious and ostentatious. It's as if she wanted very badly to prove herself as a writer. In the hands of an experienced author, Ruby's descriptions would be seamlessly, quietly woven into the narrative, always furthering it, never disrupting it. Bond certainly put in great effort, and some of her descriptions are unique and pretty, but the ones that don't work really don't work.

NOTE: I received this book as an Advance Reader Copy from LibraryThing in July 2014.
Profile Image for Ruthie.
647 reviews4 followers
October 15, 2015
I am very conflicted about this novel. The author is brilliantly gifted with a genius for writing. Her prose is beautiful, her descriptions beyond illuminating, her characters fully drawn and brought to life. The writing in this novel is luminous. The story is riveting, moving and haunting. My problem with the book is that the story is so overwhelmingly disturbing, and Bond's talents make it almost unbearably painful to read. There were many times when I wanted to put it down, get it out of my house, but I read on as the back cover promised a story of love and redemption...I needed the redemption! On Goodreads there are an unusual number of excellent, carefully written and thoughtful reviews about this novel. They are worth reading.

There has been a great deal of debate in the media lately about "trigger warnings", and I am conflicted about the subject, but this a book that no reader should embark upon without fair warning: if any or all of the following subjects will upset you as a reader, I suggest you avoid this novel; racism, lynching, sexual abuse, child abuse, child rape, child prostitution, rape, prostitution, sexual violence, incest, torture, satanic ritual abuse, abuse of the mentally ill, spousal abuse,... these topics are not merely written about in this book, they are the dark dirty nasty secrets festering in the town where the characters live and they are described so vividly that I now wish I could scrub images from my mind. It is not that I have not encountered these issues before, it is just that in this novel the onslaught is so relentless. The fact that the author works with homeless and at-risk youth, and therefore probably can draw on stories she has heard from the children she has worked with makes this even more disturbing.

If you have the courage to read this book - and it is a brilliant and important work, I suggest having a light comedic book ready to read afterwards - something by Mindy Kaling or Tina Fey, or anyone who will take your mind to happy place, you will need it!
Profile Image for Patrice Hoffman.
552 reviews257 followers
April 28, 2014

Ruby by Cynthia Bond is a profound debut novel featuring two beautiful, yet battered souls. On one hand we have Ruby. Evident from page one she comes off as a woman who has seen better days. People of Liberty watch her as she begs Miss P for food. She's no longer the beauty she once was, but still Ephram Jennings only sees her through loving eyes.

Ephram Jennings has loved Ruby since they were children and has never stopped. After seeing her fall so far from glory, Ephram decides to save her. He doesn't so much as want to remake her, but to make her whole again. And in the process, he will be made whole as well.

Cynthia Bond offers readers two unforgettable, unbreakable characters whose story I won't soon forget. Ephram stole my heart from page one with his wish to only be noticed. Besides his overbearing sister, Celia, no one else notices this simple man. Except maybe to make fun of him for taking an interest in Liberty's Ruby.

What is most true to form is the setting Bond has created. Liberty, a small, unassuming town that is riddled with secrets, and folklore... maybe even some haints, and is full of gossip. This southern town has seen it's share of crazies and is sure that Ruby is on the way to making her way into that prestigious hall of fame that Ephram's mother did decades earlier.

Each character presented in this novel served a purpose. I love that there were no words, actions, or scenes that didn't matter. Ruby is often full of suspense, mystery, intrigue, and hope. There were no good opportunities to stop reading. In the moments when I had to come back to my own world, Ruby and Ephram weren't far from my mind. Their spirits lingered, similarly to Ruby's own ghosts.

I can go on and on about this book. I can mention how vivid, provocative, haunting, and gripping Ruby is, but my words could not do this novel justice. Ruby stands on its own and invites readers to believe there is love, and redemption in us all. Thank you Cynthia Bond for inviting me on the journey through the lives of Ruby, Ephram, and the citizens in Liberty. Ruby is a wonderful debut novel that will remain in the minds of readers long after the last page is turned.

Copy provided by Crown Publishing via Netgalley
Profile Image for Mish.
222 reviews97 followers
September 18, 2015
This would have to be the hardest, most draining novel I’ve read in a long time. It’s set in a religious town in Texas, called Liberty. But unlike its name and religious values, the residences of Liberty are the most callous, sinful people you will ever read; violent men abusing the young and vulnerable for their own sick pleasure, and then toss them out like a bag of trash. And the women are no better, hypocritical and manipulate, who preach the good of mankind, compassion and kindness, yet shun away those in crisis or don’t live up to their moral standards.

Ruby Bell, is an African American woman, one of many victims to fall under the towns horrendous brutality and abuse, inflicted upon her as child by the hands of men she trusted. In adulthood she flees to New York, only to come back to relive it all over again. Ruby is in the depths of a mentally breakdown and traumatized by what she’s lived through – and still continues to live through to a certain degree. She hallucinates, doesn’t have the energy to wash or care for herself; in her madness she rolls around in the mud calling to out to other victims whom have died/murdered along the way– to Ruby they are her ‘spirit children’ she must protect.

Running along side Ruth story we have Ephran Jennings. A kind hearted and decent man, the only shining like in this whole wretched town. Ephran has loved Ruby for a long time, but hasn’t had the nerve to pursue a relationship - due to his cold, domineering sister and the towns’ prejudice. It’s only now since Ruby’s been back that he’s found the courage to make a life with her. But has he got the strength to fight the whole town?

This book is astonishing in its lyrical prose. I loved the African American accent in its dialogue; strong and distinctive, it felt like I was hearing their voices out loud rather then reading it. But that said there are excessive amount of criminal behaviour that runs throughout this novel; themes of rape, child molestation, horrendous torture and violence, that was taking its toll on me emotionally. It was too graphic in description, and in my opinion it was overdone.

There is voodoo and spiritual elements to the book; the ‘Dybou’ which represents the evil spirit and Ruby’s’ pursuer, and the crow, her childhood friend and protector; both spirits drifting in and out through the novel, which enhance a cloud of darkness to the already dismal atmosphere.

I didn’t know what I was in for before selecting this book and was in two minds about abandoning it. However, the thing that kept me going was my fondness to Ruby and hope that some good will come to her. And it did in due course, in the form of Ephran, who showed Ruby how to love and what it felt like to be loved, a feeling that she’s never experienced before. The discovery of love, trust and patience between the couple was immensely moving, and the best part of the book. And for first time I got to see a different side of Ruby, an intelligent and beautiful woman that she is, and what her life could’ve been.

This book was impressive in its writing style, especially for a debut novel, but for most parts, the subject matter was hellish to read for my taste.

#LitExp14 - Historical Fiction

Thanks to Crown Publishing and Netgalley for my review copy
Profile Image for Chris Blocker.
691 reviews158 followers
August 3, 2016
Ruby is such an extraordinary novel. I sort of feel sorry for it and its author because I worry it will not get the attention it deserves. It's written so well and the story is so captivating, but the subject and some of those scenes will surely alienate many.

Cynthia Bond writes like a young Toni Morrison. I love Toni Morrison, but I must say that I much prefer her earlier work. Morrison's writing has always been phenomenal, but her more recent books do not engage me. They're gorgeously written, but they lack story. Bond writes with that same lyrical lushness that Morrison is famous for, but this story never falters. Ruby bears the same passion and a similar gift as The Bluest Eye or Beloved. The writing is wonderful. The story is lovely and heartbreaking at the same time. The characters are wonderfully drawn (though not necessarily believable).

If you've seen the film Forrest Gump, you have an idea of the love story that weaves its way into the bigger plot of Ruby. Simple-minded, wonderful boy gives the most unadulterated love he can to the girl who doesn't seem to deserve his love or want it. It's a sweet story. It's the kind of sweet romance you find in Ephram and Ruby. It's a gentle story; the problem is, in Ruby there's nothing gentle about it.

In full disclosure, Ruby is perhaps the single most disturbing book I've ever read. Bam, automatic rejection by many readers. It's sad, because it's such a good book; but part of what makes it so good is that it is so sad. So. Incredibly. Sad. Readers who are sensitive to taboo subjects and horrendous situations (particularly those involving children) honestly should avoid this novel. I hate to say that, because it's a good novel, but I also hate to lead readers to a book they may be disgusted by. What follows is a list of subjects the book tackles, many in vivid scenes, which some readers may be sensitive to. I've placed them within spoiler tags to avoid any “spoilage”:

Ruby is not for the squeamish, or for those with such large hearts they break every time they find out how wicked society can be. Personally, I was greatly distressed by a couple of the scenes in this book. I'm sure their memory will continue to haunt me in years to come as other scenes from books and film have occasionally done. Still, I'm glad I read the novel. It may have shown me how dark the world is, but it also showed me how beautiful a good person's deeds can be.
Profile Image for Britany.
965 reviews417 followers
March 5, 2017
On paper this book should've punched me in the stomach, but in reality it fell a little flat. I wanted to connect with these characters, but something just kept me on the outside looking in. Ruby Bell is a beautiful black woman living in a small Texas town. She is berated, used, and the main source of gossip by the entire town. Ephram Jennings falls in love and will stop at nothing to save Ruby from the town and herself. I appreciated the grand gestures (who doesn't want someone to rescue them from the depths of hell?) but the connections fell apart. Ruby and Ephram grew up together and suffer such atrocities, it's hard to imagine how the author weaved this narrative together. My heart broke over and over again for Ruby Bell. Every time I got to a point in the novel where I didn't think it could possibly get worse, it did. Add in a crazy voo-doo-y Ma Tante (Auntie), children sacrifices, southern religion, and lots of abusive scenarios and you have the basis for this book. This book reminded me of a newer version of Beloved.

Listened to the audio version which was read by the author- that was a real treat, as she did a phenomenal job getting into these characters.
Profile Image for Brown Girl Reading.
349 reviews1,590 followers
June 9, 2016
I hate expecting great things from a novel but as every page gets turned I feel a little let down. Ruby, not at all what I expected, is Cynthia Bond’s debut novel that explores the life of an African-American woman called Ruby Bell, who has mentally and physically broken down from plenty of neglect and abuse past and present. Ephram Jennings is the man who loves her and has done so since they were children. He’s described as being a simple man. He has never forgotten her. And so the story begins…..

The first 60-70 pages seemed to be fairly uneventful and many characters were being introduced into the story, at times I thought too many. Then things started to happen but it all felt too over the top. Everything seemed to be too intense and at times I questioned some scenes in the novel that I felt were unnecessary. Reading about sexual abuse is hard enough but when it involves children it’s insupportable. Continue reading the review click the link http://didibooksenglish.wordpress.com...
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,602 reviews2,573 followers
June 28, 2020
From the Baileys Prize shortlist, a disturbing yet beautiful debut novel that contrasts mental illness and sexual abuse with magic realism. When Ruby Bell returns to Liberty Township, her east Texas hometown, in 1964, her fellow black folk turn her into a victim of derision. The churchgoing men of the town get the idea that they can use her body however they want. In part this is because her mental health is deteriorating, and the more she struggles to stifle traumatic memories the stranger she acts. The only one who continues to see Ruby as a human being rather than a demon or a subhuman object is Ephram Jennings. I found their relationship, reminiscent of that between Sethe and Paul D. in Toni Morrison’s Beloved, very touching.

The novel moves fluidly between the past and present to give all of the central characters’ backstories – most of them unremittingly tragic. As difficult as some of the later scenes are to take, you feel entranced into continuing because of the touches of magic realism. You can see why this was a choice for Oprah’s book club 2.0: it’s the kind of rich, harrowing storyline that Oprah goes for, and it’s sure to provoke good book club discussions. Out of the darkness Bond weaves magical language and scenes. I highly recommend this to fans of Ayana Mathis’s The Twelve Tribes of Hattie and Angela Flournoy’s The Turner House.
Profile Image for Kirk Smith.
234 reviews77 followers
April 4, 2015
I want to read the NEXT book Cynthia Bond writes. I find her style and her descriptions to be very good. She is a bit of a shock artist, with sexual abuse of children as a repetitive occurrence throughout, it seemed over the top. Too much abuse and degradation without any insight into healing or resolution. The pace of the book was slow,slow,ABUSE,slow,slow,ABUSE,slow...(you see the pattern). I felt like a bystander waiting to witness a train crash, and then on to see the next crash with more to follow. There were more "haints" and tarrants (ghosts of murdered children) in the book than there were living beings. It made everything surreal but obscured the real issues at hand. Writing of child abuse may have been cathartic, but I would venture to say that readers with that sort of history could be negating a year of therapy. For readers of extreme Grit-Lit that got through The Devil All The Time or Child Of God with no problem, this still might be appropriate. To Cynthia I would say "your writing is quite good, there is no reason to abuse your reader-just for effect."
Profile Image for Carol.
322 reviews863 followers
March 5, 2017
Ruby, the novel, is difficult to describe accurately. Bond's writing is beautiful and complex, and Ruby is an amazing first work. Its two main characters are pitiable, damaged and very likable. On the one hand, this book is a treasure and unlike any other I've read. On the other hand, the evil characters are so one-dimensionally, over-the-top evil and the list of crimes and suffering several characters suffer at the hands of the evil ones, and Ruby, in particular, suffers so much and in ways that confound understanding that one has to ask - did all of the awfulness have to be ratcheted up to the nth degree as if each new catastrophic event occurred only to top the immediately preceding one? There wasn't a plot, per se, only increased understanding of why the characters are as they are, peeling the layers of the onion one at a time, but you don't miss it for the lyrical prose and for Bond's understanding of human frailty and psychological pain.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,049 followers
May 8, 2016
This book was on my radar since 2014, but the descriptions I read made it very unappealing. This is going to sound horrible no matter how I say it but I just wasn't sure I wanted to read another novel about a woman who spends her life being victimized. I agree it is horrible, but why spend time reading it?

What most summaries neglected to say is that the writing is spectacular. Really, truly. And that pulled it up out of the other qualms I have about it. Those qualms include, well, the constant drama of a woman who can't catch a break, victimized repeatedly both by rapists and people who are going to "save" her. Since this shares a short list spot on the Bailey's Women's Prize with A Little Life, I kept thinking about how alike these two books are in some ways, with the central character as a tortured soul, one who will never fully recover, having experienced more pain in their life than is possible to survive with your sanity fully in tact. The storytelling technique is different and the feeling is different - the only fantasy in A Little Life is the idea that these four friends would all do well enough to have fantastic apartments in Manhattan. Here the fantasy intertwines with voodoo, ghosts of dead children, and the most evil spirit ever.

Then there is the character of Ephram. He has watched Ruby since they were young and one day, as a grown man still being coddled by his older sister, decides he is going to go help her. With a cake in hand, he endures ridicule from the town, violence from all over, and the heightened emotions that come with a lifetime of pain. The best writing in the entire book is the few pages where he is washing and combing her hair. Just gorgeous and moving.

This is a first novel? It is truly incredible in that light. There are a few things I wanted to be a bit different - I think the extra layers of unbelievable darkness are what made this a first pick for the Oprah Book Club but also what made it not a five star book for me. Little children, forest cult, evil minister? The book didn't need these things and it almost felt like it was asking a lot of the reader to go that far into disbelief. The power is in the things that are real - Ruby's experience in New York as a black woman in the 1950s, the death of a child, the challenges of being black and poor in a racist small southern town - I preferred thinking of the dybou as Ruby's brain dealing with her pain but then when you learn Celia's side of the story I actually think it made the "magic" less believable. And if we were going to see that Celia had a side to the story, I think it would have been more effective told in a different way, perhaps with a longer thread. It almost feels like the author felt the small story wasn't dramatic enough, but it was good enough on its own. Hopefully she will trust herself more and let the characters speak for themselves in the future. They don't have to have experienced all the pain in the world for the reader to care.

Still, it remains one of my favorites from the Baileys list. The writing is truly unforgettable.

"[She] concluded that Ruby Bell looked good enough, but crazy still hung around her eyelashes."
Profile Image for Laura.
822 reviews243 followers
December 8, 2014
This book is excellent. Please be aware that subject matter is very harsh and graphic at times. I am shocked this is a debut novel. This is a horror, love and redemptive story all in one book.
Profile Image for Jenna .
137 reviews181 followers
April 24, 2014
I received an advanced readers edition through a Goodreads Giveaway for review

In a small area, on the Eastern side of Texas, there is a town(ship) named Liberty, but don’t let the name fool you, for this town is filled with enough oppression that the name Liberty may seem totally unconceivable. The oppression is not only contrived from the segregation and fear that the “Whites” uphold toward this “Colored” section of Liberty, but the town seems to be possessed by creatures of the evil kind, as the town has voodoo flowing through its veins.

Fortunately, there is one man who seems to be a quiet force that others take for cowardice, but he seems to have more bravery to overcome just about anything for a beautiful woman he has loved since he was a child. As an adult she has lost her luster and all remains of any self-respect, for she has been victim of this town’s black magic and sexual explotation for practically her entire life. She knows that she's lost her way, but struggles to find the courage to stand up for her self and other’s that she loves.

This is my first giveaway book that I have received and I am so glad that I won it. I was sucked in almost immediately because the characters were so riveting and their situations were so unique that I kept wanting more. I lost track of time the first night that I read this book because I was so wrapped up in this story.

“Ruby” moves along at a perfect pace and situations in the book seem to fall into place when I least expected them to, and I love being surprised before I even try to figure things out on my own. I enjoyed the uniqueness of the whole book and how it was able to transport me to another place causing me to lose track of time while reading.

The only hang ups that I would have would be that there were several times in the book where people weren’t made clear and there was the use of ‘he’ and ‘she’, and I couldn’t tell who the person was…if I am making sense here myself. And other parts where things jumped around and I got a bit lost and would have to go back to see where it lost me because I felt some things weren’t always very clear.

I also was confused how the children were given small dolls to ward off the evil spirits in the beginning and how when Ephram was carrying it to Ruby as an adult and dropped it and it was dusted over by soil. It seemed to be an important part of the story, but then that was it. It wasn’t found or even talked about, so I kind of found that the dolls didn’t add anything to the story but only made me wonder about them the whole time because it was such a focus of the story in the beginning of the book. But these were minor issues compared to the totality of the book.

I really enjoyed this read and was sad to see it end. This gets my recommendation all around just for the fact that it held my total attention through the entire read.
Profile Image for Melissa Crytzer Fry.
319 reviews346 followers
August 4, 2015
Books keep us reading for different reasons. For some it’s plot, for others it’s characterization, and yet for others it’s beautifully crafted sentences or a sense of intrigue. Some of us like fast-paced, some of us like a slow trickle that places us in the hearts of characters.

This book is truly unlike anything I’ve ever read. For me, personally, the keep-reading factor was multi-faceted. The story is filled with haints and the souls of small children – and I believe it is up to the reader to decide if they are ‘real’ in the fictional world, or a metaphor for Ruby’s pain. Is she simply haunted by the ghosts of her past and is she trying to let go of them? Are they a part of her mental unraveling? Or are they real manifestations of this dark Texas town and the evil it imbues with its cult-like culture and oppression?

So … beyond the effective use of this supernatural literary technique to convey a character’s anguish, I was drawn in by the incredible use of language to emanate emotion and sense of place. The sentences in this book drip will brilliance. You will be transported to the darkness and beauty of the piney woods, and you will see nature personified and understand that it offers a spiritual and healing balm for Ruby. Also noteworthy is the author’s skill at characterizing deeply flawed individuals. I won’t soon forget Celia, Ruby, Ephram – or the religious zeal that clouds the actions of so many in this small Texas town.

As many have noted, this is not an easy book to read due to its themes of sexual abuse. But I think it’s an important book to read, as it illuminates the reality of human trafficking. In fact, the author’s personal experience as a victim informs this book. If your stomach isn’t strong enough to read about abuses against children, this book may not be for you. But if you’re willing to read a story laced in vibrant description, one trickling with sorrow, one that offers valid insight into the danger of religious fanaticism, and one offering a chance at hope, this one may be for you.

Bond is such a talented author with much to share. I look forward to her future work.
Profile Image for Janet.
Author 22 books87.7k followers
December 26, 2014
A stellar debut. Probably the most surprising book I've read this year. Received it in galleys after having met Cynthia Bond years ago, when this novel was most likely just a gleam in the author's mind. I opened it with that mixture of curiosity and dread with which every reader of a prepublication copy of a novel greets that package. Hoping only that it 'won't be too bad.' Then I began to read and I found myself shouting out to my partner (who was trying to sleep) how beautiful it was. The roots of my hair prickling.

It reminded me at times of Toni Morrison's Beloved--the darkness, the poetry, the haunted legacy of lynching, the bitterness and the terror, the literal hauntings--but also at times of the comedic later Faulkner and his small-town yokels. The very long relationships and collective memories of people who don't move around much, Plus the hope of a long-last love story. And what writing! Elegant, poetic, earthy, this book has it all. Pure magic.
Profile Image for Susan Crowe.
810 reviews5 followers
March 27, 2015
I wish I could give this more than five stars. I honestly don't have the words to describe how I'm feeling after reading/listening to this book. it is an example of love in it's purest form. Everyone could only hope they had someone to love them like Ephram Jennings loves Ruby Bell. If you aren't reading this book because Oprah recommended it, you are only cheating yourself out of something you will never forget. This book will stay in my mind for the rest of my life. I guarantee.
Profile Image for Alena.
865 reviews221 followers
July 14, 2015
I wanted to love this novel -- terrific historic setting, elements of magic and mysticism, a real feeling/influence of Toni Morrison, heartbreaking tragedy -- but I can't say I loved it. In fact, I found the last third a struggle to read. No doubt it's impressive, but it's horrifyingly violent and nasty without enough lyricism or moments of beauty to balance the wretchedness. I can appreciate the talent of this author -- the novel's structure, pace, characterization, honesty -- but I didn't enjoy reading it. Maybe if it had been named Ephram instead of Ruby, I would have liked it more. He was a character I wanted to throw my heart behind, but I was always aware it wasn't supposed to be his story. As the title suggests, this is Ruby's story, and I could never quite click with her.
Profile Image for anjelaj.
134 reviews
February 20, 2015
In a word: traumatizing. This book was filled with rape and abuse, described in detail over and over again. The synopsis of this novel indicates that it is full of life, but I found it only to be a depiction of misogyny, superstition, and racism. Was it well written? Sure. Would I recommend? No, absolutely not. I couldn't find anything redeeming in the tragedy of this book. Honestly, I don't know how I finished it.
Profile Image for Camie.
898 reviews186 followers
March 2, 2015
This is a DNF. I am in agreement with those who think Oprah really got it wrong !!!! This sentence sounds like my seven year old grandson, but in the interest of time ... the Voo doo stuff is creeping me out, the sexual stuff is grossing me out , and the abuse is making me angry. Less than 1 star - DNF
Profile Image for Book Mitch.
670 reviews17 followers
May 27, 2014
The closest I can get to comparing this book to anything is perhaps Beloved? But with more gristle.

Any time someone can transport me into another world within minutes, and make me feel sympathy pains for characters in a book as if they were my kin deserves high praise. This book was like a low, gutteral moan...

The imagery was astounding. The sweat and dust in a lazy small town. The characters were both tender and gritty. There was the spooky element of voo-doo, but also the heartbreaking love story within these tortured souls. Every time I picked this up to read it, I was stunned by the intensity and depth of emotion that Cynthia Bond can create. The stench of evil that fermented through the pages had me wound so tightly and constantly holding my breath. She has written a gut-wrenching and spellbinding story that has left me raw and spent. Wow.
Profile Image for Carol.
1,370 reviews2,133 followers
March 27, 2015
Initially, I found Ruby difficult to follow and almost gave up, but as I began Part 2, the story began to make a bit more sense.

While filled with numerous "ghostly" flashbacks and dark topics including child rape, baby brutality, racism and animal cruelty, its saving grace was Ephram who shows his deeply rooted love and perseveres through beatings and ridicule during Ruby's fight

I, unfortunately, did not particularly enjoy this novel and found the writing style somewhat confusing overall, but there are many raving reviews out there (from GR friends I respect) so do not let my rating dissuade you from reading this debut by Cynthia Bond.

Profile Image for Jayme.
604 reviews2 followers
December 25, 2014
The book jacket describes Ruby as “full of life, exquisitely written, and suffused with the pastoral beauty of the rural South, Ruby is a transcendent novel of passion and courage." Did the author of those words read the book? One of my pet peeves is when a book says that it’s one thing, but ends up being something else. I can read stories where the main protagonist has survived horrific violence during their childhood, but I need to know that it’s coming up. I was totally floored, upset, and then pissed when it happened in this book and then each scene was more violent than the next. I like to be in charge of the visuals I put in my head.

Another problem I had with Ruby is that I’m not sure what the author was trying to accomplish. There is a lot going on - almost two different books. Is it historical fiction? Supernatural? Myth? There is a good story hidden here, but the reader has to really want to weed through the symbolism and violence to find it.
Profile Image for Jamise.
Author 2 books153 followers
May 17, 2015
OMG!! I typically don't like this type of subject matter in a book but this debut novel is a GEM!! The writing is exquisite despite the disturbingly graphic and violent content. Profound in nature, this is soul stirring storytelling that commands to reader to dive in. Read it, you won't regret it!
Profile Image for Lara Maynard.
373 reviews149 followers
August 26, 2016
I gaze into my crystal ball and see:

1. Cynthia Bond is going to be big.

2. There will be comparisons to Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison ; and Ruby will be compared with Morrison's Beloved .

3. Readers will say, "More, please, Cynthia Boyd."

4. Boyd's work will enter the canon of Southern and African American literature.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Ruby: A Novel from Goodreads as a First Reads lucky winner.

A PS added 26 April 2014: If you've noticed the 2014 BookCon buzz about diversity issues and want to read diversely, consider adding this one to your to-read list.
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