Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Book Review: Saving Ruth by Zoe Fishman

When Ruth returns home to the South for the summer after her freshman year at college, a near tragedy pushes her to uncover family truths and take a good look at the woman she wants to become.

Growing up in Alabama, all Ruth Wasserman wanted was to be a blond Baptist cheerleader. But as a curly-haired Jew with a rampant sweet tooth and a smart mouth, this was an impossible dream. Not helping the situation was her older brother, David—a soccer star whose good looks, smarts, and popularity reigned at school and at home. College provided an escape route and Ruth took it.

Now home for the summer, she's back lifeguarding and coaching alongside David, and although the job is the same, nothing else is. She's a prisoner of her low self-esteem and unhealthy relationship with food, David is closed off and distant in a way he's never been before, and their parents are struggling with the reality of an empty nest. When a near drowning happens on their watch, a storm of repercussions forces Ruth and David to confront long-ignored truths about their town, their family, and themselves.

My Review

3.5 Stars

Ruth Wasserman has always wanted to fit in but, as a self-professed fat girl, she has always associated fitting in with being skinny.  After spending her freshman year extreme dieting, Ruth returns home to Alabama for the summer determined to maintain her new skinny figure, even if it means eating nothing but candy and salad.  When her family and friends comment that she's gone too far, Ruth insists that she has everything under control;  but does she really?   Meanwhile, Ruth's older brother David has also returned home for the summer.   For Ruth, David represents everything she is not.  He's a star athlete and student, with movie-star good looks, the type of person everyone wants to be like.  But the normally extroverted David has become withdrawn and uncommunicative, taking little pleasure in the activities he once thrived on and leading Ruth to wonder what has happened to the brother she used to know.  As Ruth tries to uncover the truth behind her brother's strange behaviour, she is also forced to confront her own issues.

Given her propensity to engage in questionable activities, I was initially worried that I wouldn't like Ruth enough to become engaged with her story.   Ultimately, however, I found Ruth to be a character worth rooting for.   While she has flaws and makes mistakes, Ruth also has a number of strengths, not the least of which is her ability to bring out the best in the kids she coaches in swimming.   Indeed, I greatly enjoyed Ruth's interaction with her 'guppies'.  Another aspect of the novel I enjoyed was the Wasserman family dynamic.  It's refreshing to read a novel about a young woman who generally gets along with her family and has parents who seem engaged in the lives of their children.  While the story is told from Ruth's perspective, the reader also gets a sense for how her parents struggled with how to appropriately deal with her and David's issues.  

While I enjoyed this novel overall, I do feel there was a little too much going on.  Both the main storyline and the various subplots involve heavy subject matters -- eating disorders, depression, racism, etc.   But when all was said and done, despite the serious nature of each of these plot lines, their resolutions were all a little too neat.  This issue didn't detract greatly from my overall enjoyment of the novel, but it did leave me thinking that the ending wasn't necessarily as realistic as it could have been.    Nevertheless, I would recommend this novel to others and look forward to reading more from Zoe Fishman. 

Note: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Saving Ruth is currently on Tour with TLC Book Tours.  Click here to check out the tour schedule.

Also, you can listen to Zoe Fishman talk about Saving Ruth with Book Club Girl Book Club Girl On Air show on Tuesday June 12th at 7pm EST.