THE BEAT ON RUBY’S STREET by Jenna Zark // Book Review
It’s funny how something can look pretty good until you see it with someone else’s eyes. (Zark 48)
Helloooo, everyone! It’s been awhile since I’ve had the opportunity to write a book chat, so I’m very excited to talk about The Beat on Ruby’s Street today. 🎉 This book chat also marks a milestone on my blog: I was sent an ebook copy of The Beat on Ruby’s Street in exchange for an honest review, so thank you to Aurora Publicity for that. 😊
The Beat on Ruby’s Street is a historical middle-grade novel set in 1950s America — Greenwich Village, New York City, to be precise. The story follows twelve-year-old Ruby Tebeata as she gets hauled off to the police station after being accused of theft, and is then forced to live in a children’s home after a social worker deems Ruby’s home and current education unfit for her. All of Ruby’s adventures from there onward continue to give the reader insightful and detailed glimpses into the setting of Greenwich Village during the Beat Generation period of American history, and also touches on topics like defying authority, people’s passion for art, and learning to accept that all change isn’t bad.
The reason I accepted the offer to review this book was because it was set in a time period and place in American history that I previously knew nothing about. The Beat Generation was a literary movement in post-World War II America that emphasized a freer, more flowing form of speech, less focus on materialism, and defiance against authority (or “the man,” as people within the novel call it 😊). After reading a few articles online about the Beat Generation, I dove right into the story, not sure what to anticipate…
… and got a lot more out of the novel than I expected to.
Zark successfully pulled me into Ruby’s story through detailed world-building that didn’t make me confused about the setting of the Beat Generation; scattered throughout the book are references to real, influential figures of the time period, as well as explanations for who they were and why they were significant for readers like me (hi! 👋😉) who might be confused by the references.
It’s also important to note that that narration was very well-crafted. As I read the book, I genuinely felt like I was seeing the world of Greenwich Village through the eyes of a twelve-year-old girl — Ruby’s voice was the perfect mixture of feeling simultaneously honest, childish, sensitive, observant, and lyrical. Even when she found herself feeling lost or frustrated in the novel, I found myself rooting for her to fight her way through her struggles and learn from her experiences.
Zark didn’t try to hide the fact that Ruby, as a young girl, wasn’t mature enough to notice or accurately judge the events happening around her. For example, when the social worker took Ruby away during the beginning of the novel, I found myself agreeing with the points the social worker made. Ruby’s home was in shambles, and she was clearly not being taken care of to the best extent by her parents. Ruby was so used her life in Greenwich Village that she didn’t realize how much she was missing in terms of her parents’ care and love:
“Nell-mom will be too upset to make dinner, so Ray will have cereal but I’m really tired of Cheerios. If Gary Daddy-o gets home before dark, he’ll either grab a hot dog on the way or eat at Les and Bo’s if they’re playing music together” (Zark 40).
As you can tell from the quote above, Ruby had to learn to fend for herself at a young age. Her mom doesn’t make food for her when she’s upset (and who knows how often that happens), and Ruby’s dad clearly doesn’t care enough for Ruby if he eats out by himself without paying any attention to Ruby’s health. I found it interesting to read about Ruby’s unrelenting desire to do anything to stay with her parents and get back home even when the social worker explained to Ruby why she needed to be taken away; in the end, many of Ruby’s thoughts were influenced by the adults around her, especially her parents. Before Ruby even saw a social worker, she already decided she despised them because her mother had conditioned her to feel this way about social workers, and Zark successfully crafted Ruby’s narration so that readers could distinguish which thoughts were Ruby’s own, and which ones were her parents’ words put into her own mind.
In the hectic, adult-run world of Greenwich Village, following Ruby on her journey of revelations and observations of the world around her was one that kept me interested the entire book.
As someone who is more experienced about the realities of the world than Ruby, I was able to infer and conclude some things in the story that Ruby wasn’t able to because of her age. In my opinion, that was the most endearing part of the story: I was able to watch the world unfold through the eyes of a twelve-year-old girl, yet conclude things about the world and the surrounding characters with my own, more mature knowledge of how people work. Thus, this book is able to reach an audience of children, teens, and adults alike, and each group will understand varying selections of details of the story due to their differing levels of life experience.
I did find that, when I finished the story, I felt unsatisfied with the ending. I felt like there was so much left to explore in the characters of Ruby’s brother and parents; and what about the relationship between her parents? Will Ruby take her passion for poems and do something with it? Will she eventually move out of Greenwich Village? Get an education? Realize that there’s a whole world out there for her to explore?
As I thought more about that dissatisfaction, though, I realized something: Perhaps all those loose ends are intentional.
After all, this is a story about a twelve-year-old girl who still has much to learn about the world. The seemingly abrupt ending, then, might be there to illustrate the endless possibilities a child can have in the future, as well as the endless revelations and facts about the world a child can learn as they grow up. In the moment, though, children are content to leave that hanging — and since Ruby herself is a child, we as the readers will also have to be okay with not knowing everything there is to the lives surrounding Ruby’s own.
All in all, after finishing the book, I felt like the time I used to read this book was time well spent. 😊
Thank you for stopping by to read this book chat! I hoped you enjoyed my review, and remember…
Have a wonderful day,
wherever you are in this world.
🌎 🌍 🌏