Claire Jimenez's first novel, What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez, brings to life a close but troubled Puerto Rican family in Staten Island, N.Y., carrying on but rocked by loss. "The five of us seem normal for a while, up until Ruthy turns thirteen and disappears.... Draw my mother sixty-two pounds later. Give her diabetes. Kill my dad." No one ever figured out what happened on the day Ruthy didn't come home from track practice on the S48 bus as expected.
More than a decade later, Nina, the baby, is "blessed with the brilliant luck of graduating [from college] into the 2008 recession," the first in her family to attend college but now returned home to live with her mother and work at the mall selling lingerie. Jessica, the eldest, lives with her boyfriend and their baby; she works as a patient care technician at the hospital, harried and tired but proud of her work. Their mother, Dolores, depends on her relationship with God and the church. What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez unfolds in alternating chapters, through the first-person perspectives of these four central characters: Nina, Jessica and Dolores in the late 2000s and the stormy, troubled 13-year-old Ruthy in 1996 when she disappeared. Jessica and Nina wrestle with the complicated love they feel for their family; Dolores rants in a well-meaning but frustrated one-sided conversation with her God; Ruthy oozes teenaged bravado and angst.
Readers will be tugged by hope and despair alongside these true-to-life characters. In the end, What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez offers observations about race, class, family and the fate of missing girls beyond its title character. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia