Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-04-28
- Reviewer: Staff
In her debut novel, McBride introduces us chapter by chapter to a disparate group of Las Vegans. Among them are Avis, whose husband Jim has just left her for another woman, and their son, Nate, a troubled veteran of the Iraq War who has returned to join a craven Vegas police department and who has begun to abuse his young wife. We also meet Bashkim, an Albanian immigrant boy whose unassimilated parents barely survive selling ice cream from a truck; another veteran named Luis, who is hospitalized after a suicide attempt, and with whom Bashkim begins corresponding as part of a school project; and various other school officials and charitable folk who, for better or worse, are trying to help sort things out. The story builds tension as the lives of these people unfold, intersecting in violent and catastrophic circumstances. But McBride’s characters are warm with pulsing vitality, their interior struggles as dramatic as the painful events that will alter each of their paths. The narrative is compelling enough to draw the reader along, even as it skips from one character’s point of view to another. And it is a testament to the author’s mature voice and storytelling talent that we are willing to take to heart the lessons her story offers. Agent: Stephanie Cabot, Gernert Company. (June)
Individual voices resonate in bittersweet debut
With daily news headlines detailing the tragedies that can unfold when a battle-weary soldier returns home from war, Las Vegas author Laura McBride’s first novel, We Are Called to Rise, is hauntingly timely.
Indeed, McBride’s pitch-perfect narrative of two broken young veterans, an imploding marriage and the heartbreak of a young immigrant boy unfolds quietly, with a plainspoken realism that beckons readers along from page one.
In chapters featuring alternating voices of the novel’s primary characters—no small literary feat—we hear the stories of Avis, a middle-aged woman whose husband has recently left her; Roberta, a tireless champion of homeless and abused children; Bashkim, an Albanian immigrant boy in the third grade; and Bashkim’s pen-pal Luis, an Iraq War army veteran who is hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington.
Clinging desperately to memories of better days, Bashkim’s struggling immigrant family faces formidable challenges in their new American homeland. The troubled patriarch drives a decrepit ice cream truck, barely paying the bills and forever lamenting the injustice that led to him spending time in an Albanian prison. Then a routine traffic stop escalates into a gut-wrenching tragedy that links the disparate stories.
Flashbacks convey bleak depictions of life during wartime, and a seemingly unending string of bad luck follows many of the characters in this bittersweet tale. In spite of this, We Are Called to Rise pays homage to the words first penned by poet Emily Dickinson that serve as its title, reminding us that one’s courage and character are often writ large during the darkest of days.