cover image Saving Ruby King

Saving Ruby King

Catherine Adel West. Park Row, $27.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-7783-0509-5

West’s ambitious, keenly observant debut follows two friends growing up on Chicago’s South Side, where the cycle of domestic violence repeats over generations. When Ruby King’s mother, Alice, is murdered, Ruby loses her protector, and her best friend, Layla Potter, works diligently to fill the role. West unfolds the map of their neighborhood and their families’ connections in chapters alternating between the present and the 1960s, when Ruby’s father, Lebanon, the child of his mother Sara’s rape by her own father, is abused by her. Traumatized, Lebanon becomes abusive in turn on his own family. As a teenager, Lebanon’s childhood friend Jackson, Layla’s father, was responsible for another teenage boy’s death, but Lebanon is imprisoned for manslaughter in his stead. Freed after five years, Lebanon starts blackmailing Jackson, now pastor of Calvary Hope Christian Church. (In a remarkably effective literary device, West has the church building itself “narrate” some of the chapters.) As Layla vows to rescue Ruby from Lebanon’s rage and self-harm after Alice’s murder—especially after Layla dreams of three mysterious matriarchs insisting “Go!”—plot twists lead to a climactic confrontation in Ruby’s grandmother’s Tennessee home. Despite some excessive melodrama and repetitive dialogue, West’s tale of grace, redemption, and hope would translate handily to the screen. This should enjoy wide popularity with book groups. (June)