Have you read Have You Seen Luis Velez? by Catherine Ryan Hyde? I chose this book for my PALS book club’s April selection and also asked subscribers if they would be interested in doing a buddy read.
Here is a very quick plot summary: Raymond Jaffe is a lonely high school student. His mother is white and his father black. His mother remarried a white man and has young children by him. His mother rarely listens to Raymond. The step-father is disinterested in Raymond and has a chip on his shoulder regarding finances. Raymond’s father, a dentist, has married a woman less than 10 years older than Raymond. The step-mother is jealous of the time Raymond and his father spend together. She leaves the house as much as possible when Raymond visits and doesn’t want him to visit other than during court-appointed times. Raymond doesn’t feel like he is a part of any family.
Raymond’s only friend from school has moved to California. Raymond meets Mildred Gutterman, a blind ninety-two-year-old woman in his building who’s introduced herself with a curious question: Have you seen Luis Velez?
Luis Velez was Mildred Gutterman’s former home health aide who suddenly stopped showing up to help her. Mrs. G, as Raymond calls her, doesn’t know how to reach Luis. She is so worried that something terrible has happened to Luis. Raymond decides to assist Mrs. G with her errands and secretly is determined to find Luis Velez. Along the way, Raymond overcomes many fears and meets several other New Yorkers named Luis Velez and their families. Mrs. G teaches Raymond lessons on the value of a life. Raymond helps Mrs. G deal with depression and grief. It is a unique and special friendship.
Here are a few words to describe Have You Seen Luis Velez? Uplifting, thought-provoking, encouraging, insightful, and big-hearted. If you need any of those ideas in your life (and who doesn’t), then I highly recommend this book. It is a simple reminder that if you want to see good in the world, YOU need to be the one to do good.
If you haven’t read the book stop here (and go buy a copy). The questions and answers will have some spoilers.
Here are a few questions to those who want to participate in the buddy read. I will also share these with my PALS on April 30, 2020. Some of the questions were written by the publisher, and the others are my questions. Answer any of them that speak to you! There is no time frame for answering questions. If you read the book six months or two years from now, feel free to come back to this post and comment.
- While Raymond is searching for Luis, many of the people he encounters say things along the lines of “I wish I had more time to help others.” Did the book motivate you to question the time you spend helping others in your own life? What other things do you wish you had time for?
- What did you think about the revelation regarding Raymond’s sexual orientation? Why was that important to the book?
- How did you feel about the relationships between Raymond and his family? What role did Mrs. G play in getting Raymond to better express his concerns to his parents? Were you optimistic that things would get better with his parents, step-parents or half-siblings?
- Have you ever been to a block party like the one described in the book? If so, what was the purpose? Was it successful?
- Despite the ugliness and unfairness of what is going on in the story, many people stepped up and showed kindness. One example was the block party. What other acts of kindness were meaningful?
- In regards to the trial: Did you ever feel empathy for the woman who shot Luis? Did you feel the verdict was fair? How did privilege play a role in the final verdict? Do you agree with Luis’s widow’s decision to file a civil lawsuit?
- Mrs. G tells Raymond that the world is “a tough place . . . yet we’re called upon to be grateful that we’re in it.” She also says that “life gives us nothing outright. It only lends. Nothing is ours to keep.”
Do you agree with her?
- What difficult situations did Mrs. G. endure? Do you agree that Mrs. G. did not have a prejudiced bone in her body?
- How did Mrs. G.’s blindness play a role? What did you think of her reaction when Raymond brought her flowers?
- What do you think about the Prosecutor’s theory on tribalism? How do you explain the two different grades from the different teachers Luis got on paper about the trial?
- Before he met Mrs. G., Raymond felt like he didn’t fit in and was alone and directionless. In what ways does his relationship with Mrs. G. not only change his current life but shape his future as well?
- When Mrs. G is most despondent, Raymond takes her to hear a cellist play. Mrs. G comments on how the cellist says the instrument has the same sad-to-beautiful ratio as life. What do you think is meant by that?