In Catherine Ryan Hyde’s HAVE YOU SEEN LUIS VELEZ, a lonely sixteen-year old boy finds an unlikely friendship with 92 year old Mildred Gutermann, A German Jew who narrowly escaped the Holocaust. Raymond Jaffe feels like an outsider in almost every area of his life. His best friend has moved away, his parents have divorced and remarried, and their new partners display a genuine disdain for him. As he walks to his apartment one day after school, he meets Mrs. G, an elderly blind woman whose caretaker has inexplicably disappeared. “Have you seen Luis Velez?” Mildred asks him as he walks by, and thus begins their unlikely friendship. While he tries to track down Luis Velez, he becomes Mrs. G’s new caretaker, taking her to the grocery store, making sure that she eats meals, and bringing her a cat as a companion.
Catherine Ryan Hyde has written over 30 novels, and is the author of the book Pay It Forward, which was made into a movie staring Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt. HAVE YOU SEEN LUIS VELEZ ultimately has the same feel-good message, though Hyde does not shy away from addressing racism, the justice system, and our increasingly fractured society. Raymond and Mrs. G are genuinely fond of each other and their relationship provides each of them with something they desperately long for – connection, validation, wisdom, and kindness – in a world that oftentimes feels harsh and uncaring.
While HAVE YOU SEEN LUIS VELEZ wasn’t my favorite read this year, it did provide some much needed respite from a steady stream of dense reading and a challenging year burdened by the pandemic, stay-at-home orders, and a raucous election cycle. Hyde’s characters are often one-dimensional and her plots simplistic, but the relationship between a cast-off young man and a disillusioned elderly woman who has watched her neighborhood devolve into a place of bigotry and fear, is like putting a warm blanket over 2020. Could I look more hopefully into the face of 2021? Maybe — if I let myself believe that the good people in HAVE YOU SEEN LUIS VELEZ exist outside of its pages.
I recommend HAVE YOU SEEN LUIS VELEZ for fans of PAY IT FORWARD, and A MAN CALLED OVE.