cover image What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez

What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez

Claire Jiménez. Grand Central, $28 (240p) ISBN 978-1-5387-2596-2

A Staten Island Puerto Rican family reckons with the disappearance of a 13-year-old girl in Jiménez’s brilliant debut. In 1996, middle daughter Ruthy Ramirez, a defiant, wildly independent eighth grader, mysteriously vanishes after track practice. Twelve years later, guilt-ridden matriarch Dolores harbors fear, resentment, and rage and has become obese, and determines to shed weight with help from a Christian exercise DVD. Dolores’s youngest daughter, Nina, a recent college graduate with few job options, returns to Staten Island for a lingerie retail job (“Better than any political science class... [the shop] really taught you how deeply patriarchy was linked to capitalism,” she narrates). Jessica, the oldest, an overworked nurse’s aid, shoulders the burden of her baby daughter and caring for Dolores. The sisters, especially Jessica, shield secrets: Nina wants to go to medical school, and Jessica wonders if the person who sexually abused her as an adolescent ever crossed paths with Ruthy. Then, one night, Jessica sees a woman she believes to be Ruthy on a reality show called Catfight, where five women live in a Boston condo and settle disputes with violence. Jessica and Nina hatch a plan to drive to Boston to rescue their sister, and after Dolores learns of the trip, she enlists her church friend Irene, and all four are soon en route to the Catfight condo, where mayhem ensues. The author perfectly harnesses the Ramirez women’s alternating viewpoints to illuminate how the years have worn on them, and in the stunning ending, she cannily reveal the truth behind Ruthy’s disappearance. This is a knockout. Agent: Jane von Mehren, Aevitas Creative. (Mar.)