If you lived it, the least I can do is listen.

Ruby is a debut novel that tells the story of a woman who ran from a violent past in her hometown, only to return years later, broken and haunted. As her sanity slowly crumbles, the town watches, ridicules, and exploits her. But one man has loved her since she had pigtails and ruffled skirts. And when Ephram Jennings decides to cross town with an angel food cake, the futures of both are altered - and their traumatic pasts revealed. They must both decide whether to surrender to the helpless identities fate and man have assigned to them, or to choose redemption.

What I Liked

The narrative was incredibly descriptive. I felt completely wrapped up in the small, stifling world of Liberty drawn by the author, Cynthia Bond. Her descriptions of nature and its influence on the emotions of the characters, and of the mental states of characters as their minds are slowly broken down and shattered by trauma, are vivid and gripping.

The characters were also complex and deep. Their stories slowly unfolded at just the right moment; yet when we first meet them, we only see small pieces of how they've come to be that way. We make assumptions, but as we travel back along the timelines of their lives, we suddenly realize the assumptions we made were horribly wrong. Each is a victim of someone else’s hate, power-grasping, and selfishness. And the tragedy is seeing how those actions lead the characters to complete or near self-destruction.

It is a story of redemption and change - of refusing to become who the world says we are. It shows how the steadfast love and respect of one person can completely alter the future and self-worth of another. Even though Ephram risks losing the only world he has ever known, he continues to move towards Ruby with compassion and humility. And although Ruby has believed the lies told to her for years, she begins to believe she was has a worth beyond the use of her body.

What I Found Difficult

The story is incredibly graphic, in language, violence, and sexual content. This would definitely be an “R”-rated book, and it’s unusual for me to stick with a story like that. There were countless times I wanted to throw the book aside. Initially I thought it was gratuitous and unnecessary. But slowly I realized where the story was taking me, and at the end, I was horrified and heartbroken to realize this story was true, in a sense. It flowed out of the author’s own experiences and those of her family. Although Ruby was fictional, it reflects the countless millions of stories of women and children who have experienced unspeakable brutality and violence. 

The book uses extensive references to witchcraft and rituals that seem satanic. These are never reflected in a positive light, but their presence heavily influences the people in the story. Several characters are “possessed” by the spirits of the deceased, who lead them to acts of violence and self-injury. 

The “Christians” in Ruby are all complicit to either the exploitation of women and children, or the condemnation of those forced into such lifestyles. Although mentions of Jesus and God are given, none of them are grounded in biblical truth. It saddens me to think that someone could read this and develop wrong ideas about Christians and their roles in fighting against the trafficking and exploitation of human beings, based on the portrayals in this book.

If you brave enough to live it, the least I can do is listen.
— Ephram to Ruby (p. 298)

That line, for me, summed up the entire reason I kept reading Ruby. Although Ruby is fictional, she represents millions all over the world who have been exploited by those seeking power, wealth, and the feeding of their lusts. Although I have never experienced that kind of trauma, I know it exists in the world. I have cared for children and teens who have seen and felt more in their short lives than I may ever in the entirety of my own.

It is too easy for us, the lucky ones, to push away their dark stories, to gloss over their abuse, to want to skip to the “helping” part and not have to expose our souls to the pain they have endured. We enjoy the stories of rescue we read on anti-trafficking websites. We might even feel a salacious thrill at reading brief accounts of what their lives were like before. But we don’t want to be exposed to how dark and twisted man’s heart can be. We want to believe the world isn’t such an evil place.

But it is. Evil lurks in the heart of every man and woman, and given enough incentive or opportunity or abuse, it will reveal itself. If they are brave enough to live it, the least we can do is listen to their stories - and offer hope. Because despite the darkness, hope still exists. And the only hope that could save Ruby is one she doesn’t find in the book - to meet a savior who can heal her soul and free her of the spiritual chains that bind her to her past. The only one with enough power to do that is Jesus. 

Disclosure: I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own. Affiliate links used; see full disclosure here.