Saving Ruby King is a powerful story about family, the pull of history, the power of friendship, and church culture in the Black community on Chicago’s South Side. Ruby King and her mother, Alice, have been beaten by their alcoholic father and husband for years. When Alice is found murdered in her home, her homegoing is held at Calvary Hope Christian Church, where she was a devout member. The Kings have a long history with the church’s pastor, Reverend Jackson Potter, and his wife and daughter, Joanna and Layla. Layla is Ruby King’s best friend, and after the funeral, she fears for Ruby’s safety now that she is alone with her violent father. Layla, loyal, smart and determined, will do anything to protect Ruby, even if it means going against the wishes of her father. It turns out there are secrets going back decades that tie the King and Potter families together and hold sway over their actions even now.
This book is told in alternating points of view, but there is one especially interesting narrator: Calvary Hope Christian Church. As a building, it sees and knows all, and reports on the characters’ actions, telling stories from the present and the past. It’s a brilliant way of moving the story forward with a neutral, compassionate point of view – kind of like an omniscient father (hmm, some allegory there?). Biblical references abound throughout the book too, as all the characters are connected to the church.
West takes on directly the issue of domestic violence and homicide, which affects African-American women at a higher rate than other groups. She calls out the culture of silence around it, the community’s belief that it’s between the woman and her abuser, which makes it even harder for abused women to get help. Ruby is an abused young woman learning to love herself and trying to break the patterns of behavior that have gone on in her family for generations.
I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s about family secrets and lies that fester; it’s a crime story; and it’s also a page turner. It’s great for older young adults, who will relate to the voices of Ruby and Layla. It’s a searing tale, with realistic descriptions of violence and anger, but it’s also about the power of love and friendship overcoming these things. Oh, and the audiobook is fantastic. Read it!