I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez by Claire Jimenez
Published by Grand Central on March 7, 2023
Genres: Adult Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 240 •Format: ARC •Source: NetGalley
A deeply powerful, raw debut novel that's "equal measures hilarious and haunting" (Crystal Hana Kim), 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 without a trace from the local bus stop, it left the family scarred and scrambling. One night, twelve years later, oldest sister Jessica spots a woman with Ruthy's distinctive birthmark on her TV screen in a trashy reality show called Catfight. She rushes to call her younger sister, Nina. The woman's hair is dyed red, and she calls herself Ruby, but the birthmark under her right eye is recognizable. Could it be Ruthy, after all this time?
The years since Ruthy's disappearance haven't been easy on the Ramirez family. Their mother, Dolores, struggles with mental health, weight gain, and diabetes; 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 now works 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 up to Boston 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 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.
I love a good mystery or thriller, and when I read that this one featured a missing sister that potentially pops up on a reality show years later? Sign me up!
Told in alternating POVs among two sisters and their mother, the story follows the family several years after the middle daughter, Ruthy, goes missing after track practice one day. Years later, one sister is convinced she sees Ruby on a reality tv show, which leads to the family reuniting and reopening old wounds as they reflect on Ruthy’s disappearance and potential reunion, often overstepping in the pursuit of finding her. Sprinkled throughout the novel are a few chapters from Ruthy’s POV (though I question how reliable they are), describing the lead up to the abduction.
While this story was a quick and compelling read, there’s also an undercurrent of discomfort as you can sense the characters, while family and ultimately coming together to try and find this stranger they think might be Ruthy, all of their trauma and issues with each other and resentment boils beneath their interactions. While not a surprising concept in a story about a fractured family, I didn’t get the in depth connection or closure from and for the characters that I would have hoped. The ending itself too was such a gut punch, and while I understand why the author chose to go that route, I am really missing the days of getting a satisfying ending to a mystery/thriller book.
Don’t get me wrong- I couldn’t put this book down and finished it in less than 24 hours. I think the author’s writing style was easily digestible and realistically raw, and I appreciated the Puerto Rican representation through the characters of this story (I am always here for more Latinx representation!) I just would have preferred it to be a tad bit longer and fleshed out given the number of and severity of topics that were touched upon (the book clocks in at around ~240 pages).
Overall: A quick and compelling read that is hopefully the start of future (and longer) works by the author in the future.