Friday, April 13, 2012

We the Animals by Justin Torres

In We the Animals, Justin Torres conjures up the rough-and-tumble magic of brotherhood shared by three young boys, very close in age and in their loyalty to each other. Their Black mother was only 14 years old, and their Puerto Rican father was 16, when the eldest child was born. The family's poverty and outsider status barely register with the narrator, the youngest child. He feels the security of his brothers' fierce love, despite the marital troubles of their young parents.

The boys run wild and are mostly unsupervised. Life is a marvelous adventure. They make do with what they find, like making kites out of string and black garbage bags:

"We ran, slipped, the knees of our dungarees all grass stained, we got up, ran, choked ourselves half to death with laughter, but we found speed, and our trash kites soared. We flew for an hour or so, until daylight fully buried itself into night and all the light sank back, except for the stars and a toenail clipping of moon, and the kites disappeared, black on blackness. That's when we let go, and our trash kites really soared -- up and away, heavenward, like prayers, our hearts chasing after."

Their brotherly love is tested as the narrator grows older and explores his gay identity. "See how I made them uneasy. They smelled my difference -- my sharp, sad pansy scent."

A poetic coming-of-age story, both heartwarming and heartbreaking. I loved it.

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