At the end of my freshman year of college, I was left feeling unsure of where I belonged. I had the school world of various activities, crowded dorms and a never-ending to do list.
At home, I had a loving family, queen bed and empty schedule waiting for me.
But home just wasn’t quite the same after being away for an entire year; everything changes; even I changed. In her latest book, Zoe Fishman captures these feelings and the strange existence of the summer after freshman year through the eyes of Ruth Wasserman.
Entitled “Saving Ruth,” the book immediately had me wondering just who the savior would be, and after reading the novel, it’s clear that Ruth learns how to save herself. She returns home as unconfident and unsure of herself, afflicted with an eating disorder, but the events of the summer slowly guide Ruth towards accepting and embracing who she is.
“Saving Ruth” is addictive. I sped through page after page, wanting to find out what happens to the character I so connected with. Simply stated, the book is an easy read and does not require much thought or concentration to understand.
However, it is easy to go beyond this cursory level and further compare Ruth’s life to one’s own or the universals of society; the topics of racism and body image in particular are handled very interestingly. Fishman does not dwell or rant on any themes, including coming of age, but instead inserts them into her stories for the characters to interact with and the reader to analyze.
That being said, I think this is a great book for mothers and daughters to read together, as cliché as that seems. For girls going away to college, “Saving Ruth” will show them possible pitfalls of college and a subsequent return home. For mothers, it brings them back to their younger days and can help them better communicate with their daughters.
That this book is partially based on the adolescence of Fishman – who is now 35 – and yet still strikes a chord with me at age 19, speaks to the work’s potential to span a generation by capturing the voice and experiences of a teenager.
Besides Ruth, Fishman creates a wealth of supporting characters, each of whom add to the novel. Khaki, the young girl who’s slightly overweight and struggles with body image, was the most dynamic, especially when contrasted with her overly image-obsessed mother. Khaki’s character is smart yet innocent, and she helps Ruth begin to overcome her own eating disorder.
In contrast, Ruth’s relationship with her parents seems confusing and misguided. Her parents avoid confronting her eating disorder and somehow miss the fact that her brother dropped out of school, but then eventually hold to an emotional family meeting through which all the issues are confronted at once. It seemed a bit too rushed to wrap things up with a pretty bow on top.
But in the end, it’s summer time, and either bringing this book poolside or getting a little sand between its pages is the perfect plan. Despite the heavy topics, “Saving Ruth” is a light read that will make you smile and maybe even shed a tear.
It’s impossible to avoid becoming attached to Ruth because she experiences so much throughout the book. Mostly, we see parts of ourselves in her or her family.
Of the coming-of-age stories I have read, “Saving Ruth” is one of my favorites because it is a modern spin on the classic bildungsroman novel that we read in high school. I highly recommend this book for its fun, easygoing nature and relatable characters.
Editor’s note: “Saving Ruth” by Zoe Fishman (2012, HarperCollins Publishers) is available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble (and barnesandnoble.com) and many local retailers.
By Jessie Miller