Have You Seen Luis Velez?
One of the beauties of being in a book group is that you read books you’d have never found on your own. Sure, that can be a negative if the book is a slog that only one member of the group loves – though the discussion of a book no one likes can be riveting.
HAVE YOU SEEN LUIS VELEZ? is my book group pick for next April. It is going to be loved by my group – and by those of you who choose to read it after seeing this review.
The voice is that of Raymond Jaffe, a socially challenged 17-year-old, who answers the cry for help of the 92-year-old woman who lives two floors down in the apartment where he lives with his mother, step-father, and their kids. The old woman is blind. Her caretaker mysteriously stopped coming 17 days before, and as she can’t get to the market on her own, she is left rationing canned soup for food, 1/4 of a can at a time.
Set in New York City, HAVE YOU SEEN LUIS VELEZ? still manages to feel intimate. Though it deals with loneliness, it is far more about compassion, about prejudice and bias and poverty and wealth and race and religion. Sound like too much? I didn’t find it so. Reviewers either loved or hated this book. I found the negative reviews profoundly sad.
Though the contents of this story has a liberal bent, there is nothing extreme or preachy about it. Indeed, Mildred Guterman, our 92-year-old, is open-minded and articulate, a moderate in terms of mind-thought, as haunted by the past as so many of us. She is the guiding force Raymond needs. Actually, her plight guides him. Compassionate at heart, he falls into one adventure after another aimed at helping Mrs. G. In so doing, clearly, he helps himself.
The characters Raymond encounters are nicely drawn. Even his divorced parents, one black, one white, who have failed to make Raymond feel wanted, have their saving graces.
Okay. Yes. There are times when I was reading about too many improbably good people. But unfair things happen here as well – I kept being surprised – bad things happening to good people and justice coming from unexpected sources. Besides, with climate change wreaking havoc this summer and politics in shambles, the goodness here was worth it.
HAVE YOU SEEN LUIS VELEZ? is definitely an upper of a book. I listened to it, and the audiobook narrator, Michael Crouch, was amazing, perhaps one of the best in capturing both male and female voices.
If you’re a glass-half-full person as I am, please try this book.