Loosely based on a true story, We Are Called to Rise is the kind of book that grabs you by the hand with a malicious grin and doesn’t let you go until it has had its say: “I’m going to tell you a story,” it says, “you may love it, you may hate it, but you’re going to hear it either way“.
It’s a story that makes you stop and think for a minute, and examine the different messages it tries to send. The kind that makes you instantly bond with the characters even though you may have nothing in common with them. Take the first character Avis, an aging mother with a tragic history who opens the book by wiggling her saggy, naked bottom at her hubby in an attempt to relight his fire (‘cuz his love is her only desire) only to have him blurt out that he’s embracing the cliché and shagging his secretary.
Well, she’s not his secretary, but you still can’t help feel for the poor gal!
And how about Bashkim; a young boy of Albanian heritage who struggles with his complex family and is so real as a character. It always impresses me when an author is able to capture the voice of quite a young child and by God I felt this kid.
The other two main characters held my attention slightly less. Luis, fresh out of Iraq and dealing with hella issues is not supposed to be particularly likable, but he certainly shows the most growth in the book and is infinitely more interesting than Roberta who, at the end of the day, was just superfluous, really. But hey ho, she’s not in it much, and by golly the plot’s good enough to make up for her few, quite lacklustre, chapters.
This book is about people, and the inevitable shit that we go through as humans. These characters have lived through some fucked up shit; it wasn’t the most fucked up shit I’ve ever read about, so it’s not especially hardcore in that sense. The troubles they face and have faced in the past are the slightly, and unpleasantly, more common tragedies that readers have an easier chance of understanding and relating to. Doesn’t mean Lauren McBride goes easy on us, though. The first half of the book is mainly back story, and just when you think you know all about one character, she piles on another piece of shitty information for your heart to jump at.
It just keeps coming at you: the childhood trauma. Crap. The domestic abuse. Fuck. The letter.
Though the pacing did occasionally annoy me to the point some passages felt an awful lot like filler, most of this book was so enveloping, so truly immersive, I couldn’t help but lose my footing when reading this. I became well and truly invested in the characters, so interested in their back stories that I didn’t even notice the main fucking plot event on the horizon until it smacked me in the face and told me to deal with my emotions.
At the end of the day, We Are Called to Rise isn’t going to win any awards for breaking new grounds in literature subject-matters or writing style, which, FYI, was simplistic but in a “I-just-tell-it-how-it-is-without-dicking-around” kind of way, so it works. But for me it was definitely the literary equivalent of a stop sign in my 2014 reading shenanigans. It’s the first book I’ve read this year that really made me stop and think. It made me think about human relationships, the human mind, about there being many sides to every story, about the truth, black-and-white-ness, heroes and villains and how fucking bittersweet that ending was, but how it ended exactly how I wanted it to. Except the Roberta thing, but that’s just me.
Considering the subject matter, it was an easy and short read. It kept me on hooked, it kept me invested, and it’s still keeping me thinking. Though it will never be one of those books I re-read every year like my Harry Potters or my Laini Taylors, I’m pretty sure the message will stick, which is why I’d recommend this to everyone no matter what your book tastes are. Every so often it does a person good to read a book that is good for your spiritual growth, and We Are Called to Rise is one for the list.
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