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by Laura McBride

Pub Date: June 3rd, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4767-3896-3
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

This first novel has a stronger focus on falling than rising but casts struggle in a noble light.

Four voices narrate the story, set in residential Las Vegas. Avis, 50-something, is witnessing the unexpected end of her marriage and the volatile changes in her son, Nate, who has recently returned from his third tour in Iraq and is about to become a police officer. Next we meet Roberta, a seasoned court-appointed advocate for children who ruminates on past cases, the city of Las Vegas and its rarely seen underprivileged side. Bashkim, 8 years old, lives with his baba and nene, Albanian refugees who run an ice cream truck. He loves school, his nene and his little sister, but his baba is a paranoid former political prisoner who beats his wife and makes Bashkim anxious. Finally, Specialist Luis Rodriguez-Reyes wakes up in Walter Reed hospital, injured and traumatized after losing his best friend in Afghanistan. The pertinent details in all these lives are brutal ones, and the events that eventually bind them together, even more so. McBride has a talent for voice; her characters are easy to distinguish from each other and equally realistic, despite their dissimilarity. She's also a stickler for procedure, which can be dry but adds depth to some aspects of the tale, particularly Bashkim’s schooling and Luis’ recovery process. The theme of tragedy, specifically why bad things happen to good people and why good people can do bad things, is heavy-handed, though the novel is stocked with kind, professional, intuitive secondary characters who go a small way toward balancing out the horror. Arguably, the book's fifth protagonist is Las Vegas; many passages are bittersweet love letters to what it's like to make a regular life and raise a family there.

Though ardently told, this novel takes on more issues than it can reasonably handle.