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What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez


What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez

The Ramirez family has never quite bounced back since the otherwise uneventful afternoon 12 years earlier when middle daughter Ruthy, aged 13 at the time, left track practice after an argument with a friend --- and never returned home. Her disappearance is still unsolved more than a decade later, but it continues to have repercussions. Ruthy's father died five years later, and Ruthy's mother Dolores coped with her grief by eating constantly and having lots of opinions about her remaining daughters' lives.

"WHAT HAPPENED TO RUTHY RAMIREZ is a memorable portrait of sisterhood and family, messy and imperfect but suffused with love."

Older sister Jessica is exhausted from years of being her mother's primary sounding board, especially now that she has a newborn baby of her own, not to mention a demanding job as a physician's assistant at a hospital. So when younger sister Nina (who was only in fourth grade when Ruthy vanished) returns home to Staten Island after college, dispirited after a glut of medical school rejections, Jessica declares that it's Nina's turn to shoulder the burden. Nina gets a job folding tiny bedazzled thongs at a discount lingerie shop at the local mall --- hardly the future she'd imagined for herself.

One night, Jessica, who is sleep-deprived and up with the baby, happens upon the reality show “Catfight” and realizes that one of the contestants, named "Ruby," bears an uncanny resemblance to Ruthy. The sisters can't resist the opportunity to strike out for Boston, where the program films, to see if this tough-as-nails reality show star could be their long-lost tough-as-nails sister.

It's a little hard to describe the premise of Claire Jiménez's debut novel, WHAT HAPPENED TO RUTHY RAMIREZ, without making it sound like a slapstick farce. It's true that there are moments of laugh-out-loud hilarity --- Dolores' best friend, Irene, is particularly funny, and Nina's job at the lingerie shop offers plenty of opportunities for humor, as does the plot of “Catfight” --- but the book has many more serious concerns at its heart.

Told in alternating chapters from the points of view of Nina, Jessica, Dolores and even the absent Ruthy, the novel travels back and forth between past and present. Relatively little happens, plot-wise. It is more effectively read as a composite sketch of this family as a character, as a collage of the various ways its members are still coping not only with their shared grief and trauma but also with some secrets no one else can see. Through their overlapping narratives, the characters tell stories of generational, linguistic and cultural divides, of loyalties and betrayals, of the ways in which violence is both perpetuated and hidden.

WHAT HAPPENED TO RUTHY RAMIREZ is a memorable portrait of sisterhood and family, messy and imperfect but suffused with love.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on March 10, 2023

What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez
by Claire Jiménez

  • Publication Date: March 7, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1538725967
  • ISBN-13: 9781538725962