The author narrates this semi-autobiographical book about a Cuban girl who moves to the United States in the 1960's. Ruthie must adjust to culture shock and feeling like an outsider after moving away from Cuba to Queens. Then, in her teens, she's in a car accident and her world is turned upside down.
As I said, the book is narrated by the author! Since this is a semi-autobiographical work of fiction, with the main character even being named Ruth, that made sense to a certain point.
However, I just couldn't get past the actual audio/voice. She doesn't have a BAD voice. It was just that the audio was so precise or so good that it picked up every sound her mouth and lips made as she spoke. All the "moist" clicks, slips, slides, and everything drove me up the wall and I had to turn it off. I've had sensory processing issues since I was a kid, and my biggest trigger today is mouth sounds.
[Advisory: this paragraph discusses self-harm in the abstract.] Problems with extreme frustration with certain sounds is called misophonia. It's a real thing (I swear) and when it's really bad, it actually drives me to self-harm as a form of alternate stimulation (aka "stimming." Not all stimming is self-harming, though, and not all self-harming is stimming). I seriously could not handle listening to this. Something about her vocal quality combined with the excellent audio quality exaggerated each of those sounds to my ears and I couldn't get past the very beginning while listening.
I have mixed feelings about authors narrating their own work. It can either be very good or, well, not very good. Trevor Noah, a professional performer and comedian, does an amazing job narrating his memoir Born a Crime, for instance. I think authors with theatre or performance backgrounds should certainly narrate their own work when they want to. I'm not sure about everyone else.
I don't think Ruth Behar did a bad job narrating; I'm also not sure how much of my reaction to the narration was due to the actual quality of her performance and how much of it was due to my visceral "I can't handle listening to these other sounds" problem. Also, does she actually have a "moist" voice or was it just the way it's recorded? Is it possible for your audio recording tech to be TOO good? Idk.
So, this seems like something I would want to pick up from the library and read in a text format. It's an interesting story about friendship, moving to a different country and culture, and coping with a traumatic car accident. This seems like something I'd like to read (just not, apparently, listen to).
One thing that makes me wary of it was the dedication. Ruthie's story is semi-autobiographical; however, the car accident part and Ruthie's struggle afterwards is based on the author's son. Authors basing their work on their kids, especially their kids who have disabilities, cancer, addiction, or some other form of marginalization, is something of a red flag to me. It seems exploitative. I also don't like the idea of co-opting a child's experience as part of a semi-autobiographical book about the parent.
[Advisory: this bit discusses the book's treatment of ableism and ableist language.] However, it seems the author wanted to write about this with good intentions as a way of honoring her son and his experiences. Again, I'd have to read the thing to make a full analysis. What I heard of it, I liked. But I couldn't even get to the car accident part. I stopped after Ruthie and her friend tested out of the "dumb" class to get into the "smart" class.
They're placed in the class with "problem" kids -- kids with emotional disturbance, delinquency, and learning disabilities -- because they aren't native English speakers. 10-year-old Ruthie starts out by asserting that "I am not dumb." She was only considered "dumb" when she moved to America, where she couldn't speak English. The author's use of the word "dumb," which implies that people who can't speak are not intelligent/smart/worthy, seemed very deliberate. Because she literally couldn't speak English, they considered her "dumb," or non-speaking.
Though Ruthie starts out with disdain for "dumb," she starts to critique the word and its assumptions. Even as a ten-year-old, she starts to think that maybe NONE of the kids in the "dumb" class are really "dumb." They've just been put there because the education system has assigned them a certain value and has no idea how to address their needs. This realization, especially with a young character having that level of insight, struck me as a very positive thing.
The friendship we started to see developing between Ruthie and her classmate was also really sweet. I want to see if my library has this, so I can finish reading it.
I received this audiobook book for free to review from the publisher.