Book notes | Have You Seen Luis Velez?

Have You Seen Luis Velez? by Catherine Ryan Hyde, tells the story of the unique friendship between Raymond Jaffe and Mildred Gutermann. Raymond is a teenage boy of divorced parents. His mother is white; his father is black. Both parents have remarried, and Raymond feels he doesn’t fit in with either family. His only friend moves to California, leaving Raymond lonely.

Mildred Gutermann, who lives in Raymond’s New York apartment building, is a lonely 92-year-old blind woman who survived the Holocaust. They become unlikely friends when Raymond hears her crying, “Have you seen Luis Velez?” in the hallway outside her apartment door. Unlike most residents in the building, Raymond stops to talk with her and thus begins a friendship that changes their lives forever. 

Luis Velez was Mildred Gutermann’s home care assistant, coming to help her with errands. Without him, she is isolated. Raymond decides to help Mrs. G with her errands and becomes secretly determined to find Luis Velez. His quest leads him to find 21 Luis Velezes in the NYC phone directory, and thus begins a journey that ultimately leads to discoveries, a courtroom trial, and new friendships for both Raymond and Mrs. G. 

This heart-warming, thought-provoking story reminds the reader that, as Mrs. G says, “When it comes to seeing what is important about a person, I think it’s possible that what our eyes tell us is only a distraction.” 

UMRA Book Club I members overwhelmingly enjoyed reading this book with its uplifting theme. One member said during the group’s November 2021 discussion they felt the author was being manipulative, and that this novel seemed more like a young adult novel due to its simple language and a teenage protagonist who was deemed to be unbelievable. Others said they felt this story was especially appreciated in today’s times of social unrest and they have recommended the book to others. 

Catherine Ryan Hyde, a prolific American novelist and short story writer, gained fame with her first novel, Pay It Forward, which inspired a movement to do small acts of kindness—a hopeful theme that also underlies Have You Seen Luis Velez?

—Mary Jane Towle, UMRA Book Club 1 member

Publication date: 
November 22, 2021
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