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.

 

This article was originally published in the June 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

comments powered by Disqus