Saving Ruth by Zoe Fishman
Published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins
Review copy provided by LibraryThing Early Reviewers

Ruth comes home to her small Alabama town after her freshman year of college to work as a lifeguard alongside her older brother David, who she’s never been  particularly close with. Ruth is struggling with inner demons – her weight has always been an issue, and after spending a year practically starving herself while away at school, her family is shocked to see her so shockingly skinny. Things are not good at home, either, as David is even more closed-off and distant than she expected. When a child nearly drowns on a day that Ruth and David are both watching the pool, they must come together to defend themselves and, in the process, confront years of bottled issues within their family, their town, and themselves.

There is a lot to like about Saving Ruth, and Ruth herself drew me into the story immediately. From the first page, I was interested in who this girl is, what is up with this family dynamic, and how and when is Ruth going to come to grips with her eating disorder and begin to heal from it. For the most part, the book wraps itself up pretty well and I was left in the end satisfied with my questions answered.

One thing I liked about Saving Ruth and found unique was the brother-sister relationship that is explored in the book. Not a lot of novels that I’ve seen lately focus so intently on a sibling relationship, especially one that is dysfunctional without it being clear why that is the case. The situation with Ruth and her brother David was just sad – they simply didn’t get along, hadn’t for years, and Ruth both was desperate to be loved by her brother and really didn’t like him as a person at the same time. Fishman did a good job showing how the sibling relationship can be incredibly complex and is shaped by years of a shared family history and experiences. Also she illustrated the fact that even though two children can grow up in the same home with the same two parents, their childhoods can still be different based on how they interpret things that happened, how the parents treat each child differently, and how their personalities can just be different from birth. I liked the exploration of Ruth and David’s relationship a lot and found it to be an interesting element of the novel.

Another element of the story I found interesting and well done was Ruth’s anorexia. It was so clear that she was in denial about her eating disorder and how bad it had gotten, but also was desperate for someone to help her with it. And it made me sad how her family and friends didn’t know what to do with her, how to react to her huge weight loss, and how to help her. One thing I don’t think was resolved well was this particular issue – definitely by the end, there was hope for Ruth, but I wasn’t confident that she was going to get better. Although I suppose that is realistic because eating disorders don’t just go away – it can take years of work, therapy, and discipline for a person to recover from an eating disorder and begin to treat her body in a healthy and positive way. So while I didn’t love the way Fishman resolved this particular issue she did treat it realistically.

I did enjoy Saving Ruth and would recommend the novel. The characters are well drawn, the writing is good, and the story contains several elements that bring everything together in a comprehensive and unique way. Fishman did a nice job with this novel and I will continue to read her work when the opportunity arises.