Book Review: Irreversible Damage by J.L. Ruiz

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Irreversible Damage: The Katie Suarez Social Justice Series
J.L. Ruiz 
WPR Books, 2019

♦♦♦
3.5 Stars

 

In many parts of the Internet, the phase ‘social justice warrior’ is meant as a slur as though working to dispel bigotry and enshrine inclusion is somehow not a virtue. These toxic corners are self-satisfied, but there are many and more who have decided to appropriate the term. They take pride in doing the work, in being a social justice advocate and activist. In his new novel Irreversible Damage, JL Ruiz introduces readers to Katie Suarez, a high-achieving teen growing up in the Trump era where her very existence as a Mexican-American marks her as target of racist policy.

Using his own personal experiences as fodder, Ruiz has crafted a resonant novel. It is a book at once topical and historical. The Suarez family is one containing the varied and deep experiences of Mexican-Americans in today’s society. Each family member becomes a vehicle for exploring history as well as for expressing divergent points of view. Katie’s father is proud man, made ever more anxious by the rise of Donald Trump’s nativism. He explains to his family how such aggressive nationalism has happened in the past and how knowing this history can illuminate the present. Yet Katie’s mother and brother lean more towards this nationalism, refusing to see themselves as Mexican-American believing they and only they control the narrative about themselves. Through the Suarez family, Ruiz cuts to the quick and shows how within a community there are deep divisions, “Mexicans themselves are divided. The wealthy and successful Mexicans blend int othe US quickly and prefer to not to be associated with the peasant Mexicans.”

Story-wise, we primarily follow Katie from high school through college as her social awareness grows due to both her keen intelligence and personal experiences. The Suarez family is divided and eventually broken up as the flames of cultural racism are fanned. It is deeply ironic (and certainly intentionally so by Ruiz) that an American family is sundered just like so many immigrant families are being. It is the catalyst that motivates Katie to strive to become a lawyer, to found a Mexican-American advocacy group in college, to go on a hunger strike demanding lawmakers act to protect DREAMERS, and ultimately succeeding.

What readers will enjoy most about Irreversible Damage is how Ruiz never allows his prose to become preachy or bias. Rather, he has each of his characters embody people we see every day–the resentful bully looking for any way to take down a rival, the teacher who’s life is changed at a campaign rally, the bestfriend who becomes a true ally, and on and on. Ruiz covers nearly all sides of the immigration issue facing our country but from the human side of things. We see and know the people, the persons not just involved but enduring the fruits of nativist fear and hatred. 

As the first book in a new series, Irreversible Damage is a strong novel. It promises readers a protagonist they can not only admire but grow with as she tackles social justice issues. For young readers especially, Ruiz has crafted an aspirational novel, one that encourages them to read more, learn more, and get out into the streets or halls of power to challenge injustice.

 

About the Author

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Born in Mexico City, JL attended university at UNAM, one of the oldest and most prestigious universities on the continent. JL relocated to the U.S. as a young man and experienced the unique challenges and opportunities of a Mexican immigrant. He observed similar experiences by other immigrants as well as witnessed the life and perspective of countless U.S.-born Mexican-Americans. With hard work and dedication, he became a highly respected dentist, researcher, and educator. Author of the textbook “Supra-gingival Minimally Invasive Dentistry” published by Wiley-Blackwell, he has also published many research papers and clinical articles on adhesive and esthetic dentistry. Ruiz regularly lectures at all major dental meetings, nationally and internationally. JL enjoys a clientele of many stars and entertainers and has made numerous television appearances for his dental expertise, including NBC Channel 4 News, ABC’s News, Good Morning America & Vista La, VH1 and Channel 52’s Telemundo and 34 Univision. A lover of history, psychology, and culture, his socially charged novels offer a fresh understanding of how historical events shape the present and the future. A big fan of music and the arts, JL is a past member of two rock bands.

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