We the Animals

Photo: Philip Friedman/Studio D

5 of 8
We the Animals
144 pages; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
"Ma could hold tears on her eyelids longer than anyone," observes the unnamed narrator in Justin Torres's We the Animals (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), a novel so honest, poetic, and tough that it makes you reexamine what it means to love and to hurt. Written in the voice of the youngest of three boys, this partly autobiographical tale evokes the cacophony of a messy childhood—flying trash-bag kites, ransacking vegetable gardens, and smashing tomatoes until pulp runs down the kitchen walls. But despite the din the brothers create, the novel belongs to their mother, who alternates between gruff and matter-of-fact—"loving big boys is different from loving little boys—you've got to meet tough with tough." In stark prose, Torres shows us how one family grapples with a dangerous and chaotic love for each other, as well as what it means to become a man.
— Abbe Wright