What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez

Claire Jiménez

Quick Synopsis

A powerful debut novel that’s “hilarious, heartbreaking, and ass-kicking,” of a Puerto Rican family in Staten Island who discovers their long‑missing sister is potentially alive and cast on a reality TV show, and they set out to bring her home.

Publisher’s Synopsis

The Ramirez women of Staten Island orbit around absence. When thirteen‑year‑old middle child Ruthy disappeared after track practice without a trace, it left the family scarred and scrambling. One night, twelve years later, oldest sister Jessica spots a woman on her TV screen in Catfight, a raunchy reality show. She rushes to tell her younger sister, Nina: This woman’s hair is dyed red, and she calls herself Ruby, but the beauty mark under her left eye is instantly recognizable. Could it be Ruthy, after all this time?

The years since Ruthy’s disappearance haven’t been easy on the Ramirez family. It’s 2008, and their mother, Dolores, still struggles with the loss, Jessica juggles a newborn baby with her hospital job, and Nina, after four successful years at college, has returned home to medical school rejections and is forced to work in the mall folding tiny bedazzled thongs at the lingerie store.

After seeing maybe‑Ruthy on their screen, Jessica and Nina hatch a plan to drive to where the show is filmed in search of their long‑lost sister. When Dolores catches wind of their scheme, she insists on joining, along with her pot-stirring holy roller best friend, Irene. What follows is a family road trip and reckoning that will force the Ramirez women to finally face the past and look toward a future—with or without Ruthy in it.

What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez is a vivid family portrait, in all its shattered reality, exploring the familial bonds between women and cycles of generational violence, colonialism, race, and silence, replete with snark, resentment, tenderness, and, of course, love.

Book Review

What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez is the story of a Puerto Rican family living on Staten Island. The novel focuses on the time leading up to and after the disappearance of Ruthy, the middle sister, when she is thirteen.

First and foremost, What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez is a novel about family. It is a story of family, fury, a missing girl, and what society does not see. While there is a thread of suspense throughout the story, the book’s primary focus is the complicated nature of relationships, particularly between women, whether that be friends, sisters, or mothers and daughters. It also highlights the feelings and emotions that arise from these relationships, from Ruthy’s disappearance, and from their fight to survive.

What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez is told from the alternating perspectives of Ruthy’s sisters, Nina and Jessica; her mother, Dolores; and Ruthy herself. The voices of these women are full of personality, life, wit, and pain. I loved that Jiménez gave her characters the ability to tell the truth as they saw it. As a result, this book is filled with raw, forthright insight (filled with expletives) on everything from pop culture to intergenerational trauma. Judging by some reviews I read, this may be hard to digest for some or make others uncomfortable. I, on the other hand, loved feeling like these women were confiding in me.

Jiménez particularly excelled in creating characters that felt like real people I could encounter on the subway or at a Staten Island bus stop. Furthermore, each of the narrators had a unique voice. So often with books told through multiple points-of-view, the author fails to give each narrator a unique voice. But that was most definitely not the case in Ruthy Ramirez.

Despite the narrators’ unbridled honesty about how the years have worn on them and the difficulties in their lives, I did not feel like What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez was bleak. There was always an undercurrent of hope. In addition, Jiménez wove in humor, laughter, and love. While I did not laugh out loud a ton, that is okay. I think, for me, the funny moments were weighed down by my worry about what came next. But that is definitely more of a me problem than a book problem.

Overall, I found What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez to be a refreshing and raw debut novel that embraces the messiness of life and family. Jiménez gives a voice to missing brown and black girls and reminds readers that they are more than a missing poster; these girls are loved. I highly recommend this book (so long as you approach it with an open mind). I think those who grew up in Latinx households will particularly enjoy this novel.


Overall Rating

Rating: 4 out of 5.


Rating: 4 out of 5.


Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Character Development

Rating: 4 out of 5.

What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez


Literary Fiction

Publication Date
March 7, 2023


Storygraph Rating
3.78 stars

Goodreads Rating
3.78 stars

Buy Now

Note: I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book from its publisher, Grand Central Publishing. Regardless, I always provide a fair and honest review.

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