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What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez by Claire Jiménez [Book Review]

What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez by Claire Jiménez follows a broken family years after their sister/daughter goes missing. Read my review.

When I first read the summary of Claire Jiménez’s What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez, I assumed it would be a fast-paced mystery of sorts. Unfortunately, this was not a fast-paced mystery, even though I felt driven to learn what happened to missing 13-year-old Ruthy Ramirez. The book begins and ends strongly, and I was totally engaged at times. However, if I’m being completely honest, while the characters were always intriguing, the plot was not. Overall, I enjoyed the book and rated it three out of five stars.

What is the book about?

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. []

My thoughts…

The characters in What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez were well-developed and skillfully portrayed, allowing me to imagine them clearly as I read. In particular, Nina, Jessica, and Delores had distinct voices that brought each woman to life for me; at times, I felt as though I were reading a journal rather than a fictional novel. The cursing/foul language appeared to be a problem for others, based on early reviews I read, but I found it to be completely natural and not irritating in the least. In my opinion, it made the characters feel more genuine. (However, this sort of language has never bothered me, so keep that in mind if you’re considering reading this book.)

My problems with What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez stemmed primarily from the book’s middle. It didn’t bother me to learn I wasn’t reading a mystery but rather a novel about a broken family who unexpectedly discovers their sister/daughter may be alive and well. The story focuses on the women’s lives and relationships with each other. However, I rated the book three out of five stars because a significant portion of it was unfocused, and, as a reader, I lost the plot.

Since my issues with What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez stemmed from the story rather than the writing, I would read another book by Claire Jiménez without hesitation. This was my first time reading the author, and as I mentioned, I thought her character development and tone were excellent. However, I’m still undecided about recommending this book to others. Did I enjoy it overall? Yes. Are there other books that I would recommend before this one? Yes.