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Reviews of What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez by Claire Jimenez

What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez

by Claire Jimenez

What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez by Claire Jimenez X
What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez by Claire Jimenez
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2023, 240 pages

    Paperback:
    Feb 2024, 220 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Callum McLaughlin
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About this Book

Book Summary

A powerful debut novel that's "hilarious, heartbreaking, and a**-kicking" (Jamie Ford), of a Puerto Rican family in Staten Island who discovers their long‑missing sister is potentially alive and cast on a reality TV show, and they set out to bring her home.

The Ramirez women of Staten Island orbit around absence. When thirteen‑year‑old middle child Ruthy disappeared after track practice without a trace, it left the family scarred and scrambling. One night, twelve years later, oldest sister Jessica spots a woman on her TV screen in Catfight, a raunchy reality show. She rushes to tell her younger sister, Nina: This woman's hair is dyed red, and she calls herself Ruby, but the beauty mark under her left eye is instantly recognizable. Could it be Ruthy, after all this time?

The years since Ruthy's disappearance haven't been easy on the Ramirez family. It's 2008, and their mother, Dolores, still struggles with the loss, Jessica juggles a newborn baby with her hospital job, and Nina, after four successful years at college, has returned home to medical school rejections and is forced to work in the mall folding tiny bedazzled thongs at the lingerie store.

After seeing maybe‑Ruthy on their screen, Jessica and Nina hatch a plan to drive to where the show is filmed in search of their long‑lost sister. When Dolores catches wind of their scheme, she insists on joining, along with her pot-stirring holy roller best friend, Irene. What follows is a family road trip and reckoning that will force the Ramirez women to finally face the past and look toward a future—with or without Ruthy in it.

What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez is a vivid family portrait, in all its shattered reality, exploring the familial bonds between women and cycles of generational violence, colonialism, race, and silence, replete with snark, resentment, tenderness, and, of course, love.

¿Cómo habré de llamarme cuando sólo me quede
recordarme, en la roca de una isla desierta?
—Julia de Burgos, "Poema para mi muerte"

What shall I be called when all remains of me
is a memory, upon a rock of a deserted isle?
—Julia de Burgos, "Poem for my death"
(Trans. Vanessa Pérez-Rosario)

If you drew a map of our family history, you might start it off with my dad, young, fat, and handsome, eighteen-year-old Eddie Ramirez, plotting to get with my moms, who was dark-skinned, small and freckled, long black curly hair. Freshly turned seventeen. Her name is Dolores. And you can probably start it off in Brooklyn. Canarsie. Draw a bump underneath my mother's wedding dress—that's Jessica. Then shortly after, in 1981, you can make Jessica a separate person, angry and red, pale-skinned like my dad, screaming in my mother's arms. Two years later draw Ruthy in pencil, lightly, because you're going to need to erase her in a couple of minutes. Now, ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. Dolores is the mother who knows more about the harsh challenges of the world than her daughters; Jessica is the protective older sister; Ruthy is the middle child; and Nina is the baby. Describe the way that each woman's voice is distinct and how it reveals the role that each character plays in this family.
  2. In the aftermath of Ruthy's disappearance the Ramirez family's lives are irreversibly changed. Thirteen years later, though the Ramirez women have carried on, they hold grief and the wounds of this enormous loss at every turn. In what ways is it reflected in their actions?
  3. Discuss the ways each of the characters want more for themselves and their lives, what they are doing to achieve this, and the forces that work against them.
  4. Discuss ...
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  • award image

    PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
    2024

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The story weaves back and forth in time, narrating life before and after Ruthy's disappearance. The narration is predominantly first-person, told from the perspectives of all three sisters and their mother. This could have become confusing, but author Claire Jimenez gives each of the women a distinct voice, allowing the reader to easily keep track of whose viewpoint we're following at any given moment. While the climax veers into melodrama reminiscent of a soap opera, the novel remains sensitive to the characters and their struggles. As such, it never loses sight of its ultimate goal: to give voice and humanity – flaws and all – to missing people from minority groups, too often relegated to mere statistics...continued

Full Review (548 words)

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(Reviewed by Callum McLaughlin).

Media Reviews

Ms. Magazine
At turns desperate and witty, fresh and familiar, Jiménez's debut taps into universal themes of familial relationships and shines a light on the lasting intergenerational effects of colonialism, violence, racism and tradition.

Today.com
A funny and heartbreaking examination of sisterhood, generational trauma and the bonds that hold families together.

Booklist (starred review)
Sympathetic and fiery Latina characters shine in this warm and moving novel portraying a down-to-earth family with deep loyalty and longing for closure.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
The book's humor alongside Jiménez's willingness to include everything from pop culture to intergenerational trauma is the reason this book is a page-turner. Jiménez brings bravery to the page, and it's her strong storytelling and humor that make this an outstanding debut.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
A Staten Island Puerto Rican family reckons with the disappearance of a 13-year-old girl in Jiménez's brilliant debut...The author perfectly harnesses the Ramirez women's alternating viewpoints to illuminate how the years have worn on them, and in the stunning ending, she cannily reveal the truth behind Ruthy's disappearance. This is a knockout.

Author Blurb Gabriel Bump, author of Everywhere You Don't Belong
What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez, from the first pages, grips you like an excellent thriller and unfolds with surprising beauty. Claire Jimenez gives us religion, intergenerational trauma, reality TV, high school drama, and sisterly love. Every narrative turn and revelation provides a jolt. We're dealing with a writer deeply in touch with what us readers need. What a pleasure.

Author Blurb Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of The Many Daughters of Afong Moy
A fantastic debut that is full of attitude, authenticity, and authority. This book is hilarious, heart-breaking, and ass-kicking at the same time.

Author Blurb Jaquira Díaz, author of Ordinary Girls
Claire Jiménez's What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez is at once hilarious and heartbreaking. An original novel about mothers, daughters, and sisters, about a family broken by a profound loss. Jiménez is both storyteller and cultural critic, giving us an unflinching rejection of respectability politics, characters who love and fight, who are flawed and vulnerable and real. This book will stay with me a long time.

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Beyond the Book

Missing People in the U.S.

The number of active missing persons cases in the U.S. has declined steadily since 1997. This is due in large part to improvements in connectivity and communication, with cell phones and other handheld devices making it considerably easier to track a missing person's potential whereabouts. While this decline is cause for celebration, it is important to note that in the U.S. alone, around 600,000 people are reported missing annually. The great majority of these cases are resolved quickly, often within hours, but a few thousand remain unresolved each year. There are currently over 22,000 open missing persons cases in the U.S., according to the US Department of Justice's National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. Author Claire Jimenez ...

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