When I noticed We Are Called to Rise, Laura McBride’s debut novel, I heard the words “dazzling” and “unforgettable” and “tender,” and knew I wanted to read it. But then at the bookstore, I read the book jacket summary, shut the book, and placed it back on the shelf. It sounded too sad, too heartbreaking for me. But weeks passed, and a few more friends raved about it, and I returned, pulled it back off the shelf, and brought it home. Once I started reading, I couldn’t stop.
The story is told through the eyes of many characters—a housewife on the brink of divorce, an eight-year-old child whose immigrant family struggles to have money to buy food, an Iraq veteran who has gone too far, and a child’s services volunteer working to put lives back together. As their stories weave and their lives intersect, the suspense for how it comes together builds, and the pages simply can’t turn fast enough.
The boy, Bashkim, is from Albania, and his story is the one which kept me hooked. I felt for his family as they try their best to make this shiny U.S. their new home. But their names and clothing stick out, and their thick accents and the steep language barrier make fitting in almost impossible. And then, a simple detail leads to an irreversible tragedy.
I have lived in former communist Europe, have experienced the hardship of trying to adapt to a culture very different from our own, and then felt the strain of trying to return to my home U.S. culture again. Difficult is not a strong enough word to describe the struggle of being an outsider, and yet McBride captured it perfectly. And her writing has meaning.
Here, in Bashkim’s words, from the book:
““You’re okay, Bashkim. You’ve been through worse than this. Everybody here wants to help you.”
Mrs. Delain always makes me feel better… she believes that people like me and Keyshah and Daniel are going to make the world better some day. She says that nothing makes a heart bigger like experience.”
It’s rare for me to pick up a book so unputdownable that I must read while I empty the dishwasher, make dinner, and fold clothes. This one I couldn’t stop reading; it moved me deeply. Despite what happens, and though the story is sad, it is infused with hope.
This is the triumph of We Are Called to Rise. It is in the human connections we make that we can rise above our struggles, that we can reach out and help another up and go forward, meaningfully and well, because of our connectedness, together.
The author, Laura McBride, writes this in a note to the reader:
“I wanted to tell a story that might make a reader have a big feeling, the sense that no matter how cruel or unfair life could be in a given moment, no matter how terrible the consequences of a tiny mistake, it was ultimately beautiful to live.”
Yes, she composed something powerful and moving and ultimately beautiful in We Are Called to Rise. It would be a perfect book to read and discuss with friends. It’s one which reminds me of why I believe Great New Books is so important–books like We Are Called to Rise help to make our world a better place.
Have you read We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride? We’d love to hear what you think — please share in the comments below. Thanks!