I FIRST LEARNED of Justin Torres’s short and elegant debut novel, We the Animals, in a review right here in LARB written by Rigoberto González. Rigoberto and I became friends a few years after he reviewed my first short-story collection 10 years ago for the El Paso Times. Rigoberto has a tough eye when it comes to analyzing and discussing new books by Latino writers, and he will not give anyone a free pass. If a work is deeply flawed, he’ll say so. If a piece of writing moves him, he’ll let us know and explain why. So when Rigoberto trumpeted this young, daring author named Justin Torres, I took notice.
And then this spring, my literary path crossed Justin’s when our novels were two of 12 books chosen as semifinalists in the 2012 Cabell First Novelist Award which honors an outstanding debut novel published during a calendar year. When I saw We the Animals and other wonderful titles on the list, I knew two things. First, my little novel was not going to win. Second, Justin could be the first Latino to win this prestigious award. When the three finalists were announced a month later and Justin was on it, I knew he’d win…I had no doubt whatsoever.
So, it’s been a year since We the Animals was published. It is now an award-winning novel that garnered raves from prestigious print and online publications. The paperback edition will soon be released. Justin Torres kindly agreed to an online interview while his life goes through yet another major change as he moves to Boston for a one-year fellowship at Harvard.
DANIEL OLIVAS: It’s now been a year since your debut novel, We the Animals, was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and the paperback edition comes out this month. Since then, it has received the type of critical acclaim and press coverage all writers dream of including raves from The New York Times, The New Yorker, Esquire, Kirkus Reviews (starred review), Vanity Fair, NPR, to name several. But I wanted to ask you about Rigoberto González’s review of your novel in the Los Angeles Review of Books which ends with this observation:
It’s sad indeed that We the Animals — like most literary works with homosexual content, aside from Greek mythology — will not make most high school reading lists without controversy, if at all. But even if it’s kept off reading lists and library shelves, Torres’s book will undoubtedly find an audience in a number of other communities, including the Latino, LGBT, and both young adult and adult readerships.
What did you think when you first read that observation? Has he been proven right?
JUSTIN TORRES: Rigoberto González is an excellent writer and it was such a treat to find out he’d reviewed the book. I do remember reading the ...read more