Reviewed by Amy Bermudez (Army)
When I find a book that I love, my first reaction is to gush about it. I try to tamp down my excitement (nothing is worse than the oversell!), but in this case it’s particularly difficult. I recently read We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride, and all I want to do is rave.
McBride includes the following note on the inside of the book jacket:
“…I wanted the reader to walk away believing that, with all our faults, human beings are worth something.”
She succeeded! She managed to produce something uplifting but not cliché out of bad choices, horrible moments, and painful consequences. A tall order!
The book tells the intersecting stories of four different characters in the most effective use of multiple narrators that I’ve seen in a while. Not all the characters are explored equally, and I appreciated that. Roberta, the volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate, doesn’t warrant extra pages. Bakshim, the third-grade son of Albanian immigrants, on the other hand, rightfully took up plenty of space in the book. His voice was unique and his value system came off as authentic. He worries about things like being the line leader, the funny crossing guard, and being embarrassed by his father.
I didn’t expect to find myself relating to Avis – the middle-aged divorcee and Vegas native – but I did. She clings, perhaps too tightly, to her family following the conclusion of her son’s third overseas deployment. Our final narrator is Luis, a soldier returning stateside following a difficult combat deployment full of regret.
The multiple narrators approach in this book isn’t a gimmick; it’s a tool to look at the humanness behind each action. Where McBride could have faltered and given away too much, she built suspense. Instead of boring us with too much backstory, she created interesting characters that she slowly exposed.
author Laura McBride (photo, Simon & Schuster)
The novel is set in Las Vegas, where McBride lives. Although I’ve never been there, I’ve gotten a crash course in desert living over the last year. Her descriptions rang true. There’s something about these towns that are hundreds of miles apart, dotted by suburbs with rock lawns and gleaming pools, under the oppressive heat of never-ending summer that weathers the people who live there much like it shapes the sand dunes. I appreciated that the characters were, at least in part, products of their environment.
Las Vegas (Wikipedia photo)
It’s impossible to talk about the book and not mention the 2004 movie Crash. Both have multiple intersecting storylines. Both zero in on big topics like race, war, and family. Both are excellent. The difference is that Crash is the collision of multiple huge moments. In contrast, We Are Called to Rise shines the light on the tiny particles that swirl around one moment. McBride gets how good it feels when your mom scratches your head, how important an inside joke is between friends, how sweet a teacher’s words are on the first day of school.
Avis sums up the beauty of the book when she remarks toward the end, “It all matters…What is most beautiful is least acknowledged. What is worth dying for is barely noticed.”
McBride, Laura. We Are Called to Rise. Simon & Schuster, June 2014.
Read an interview with Laura McBride in USA Today
(On publishing a first novel at 53: “It’s thrilling; sometimes I think this is happening to someone else. But it’s also uncomfortable to have done something so personal that’s now so public. It’s an odd sensation.”)
Buy We Are Called to Rise
About the Reviewer
Amy Bermudez is a writer, teacher, and Army wife currently stationed at Fort Bliss. She loves running, reading, and ice cream (but maybe not in that order) and writes a popular blog, Army Amy. Her Instagram is delightful. Some of her published articles include “Our Military Family, Our Reality” on The Huffington Post, “Moving is Not Following” on Spouse Buzz, and the very funny “You Bring the Turkey, I’ll Bring the Menorah” on NextGen MilSpouse. She has a really adorable dog named Geronimo.