The Given World by Marian Palaia (4 out of 5)

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The thing I love about Simon & Schuster as a publisher is that they send out emails highlighting books that they feel to be worthy of special consideration; not only in picking up that title and reading it; but to recommend it to whomever you can find, and to nominate it for literary awards and kudos. Last week, I received such a newsletter for this title. I emailed Wendy and asked her to send it; she enthusiastically recommended it. I was not disappointed. (And yes, I did nominate it for the Indie Next list; those of you who follow here and are booksellers or industry people, you should do so by February 3rd, 2015). In the meantime, I’m going to try to throw the spotlight on it for a bit by reviewing it.

Right away, I have to tell you; this is not a book I was sure was going to be one that would make you weep with laughter; I was pretty certain from reading the jacket that it was going to be a book that broke my heart. And it did; don’t get me wrong. But it also showed that a corner of the world most associated with a tragic historical war (Vietnam) has character, shadows to overcome, and a heart and soul. Vietnam, surprisingly, was one of my favorite parts- and characters- in the book. It permeates every corner of Palaia’s book. That’s not a sentence I expected to ever type in a review of a book in my lifetime, but there it is. Heartbreaking poignant, Vietnam, whether it is the location, the war, or the effects of those who served, the families and loves of those who served, or those who are living in this world while the war is raging (as well as after), is present for the entire book, like a dark shadow waiting in the wood. I can’t think of another time when a geographical location so effected a work that I was reading. Until now.

Riley is thirteen when her brother Mick goes missing in Vietnam. Riley, awash in grief, finds solace in the world of drugs and self-imposed exile. She manages to fall in love with a local boy, but he’s off to war, and Riley seems to have lost someone else she cares deeply about, to the war. Riley travels from one place to another, trying to reconcile with the reality that her brother is more than likely gone forever. It’s quite a journey that Riley takes; she meets an eclectic group of people in her travels; all have their own pain and lost hopes, as she does. The supporting cast of characters in this book add even more of an element of the “lost generation” to the book. So much helplessness and pain in that time, widely chronicled in history books and documentaries; it’s a pleasure to have an author who manages to convey that within the pages of a remarkable book. Riley’s attempt to make peace with all that has happened to her brother, her lover, and herself is touching and yet so realistic you can’t help but feel such sympathy for her. She is a great character, and a fighter. The book spans over 25 years, so there’s a lot of growing up that Riley does within that time. She needs to make that final step; coming to peace with all and having the courage to go home to a place where she had long been absent from, and likely forsake. Will she be able to do that and go home to her parents’ farm? That, my friends, is the question in your mind throughout the book. I loved Riley; I loved the supporting cast, I loved the delicate balance between life and death that’s present throughout the book. There isn’t much I didn’t love about this book. Plain and simple. Give it a chance; don’t let the plot deter you from picking it up and reading it. You won’t be disappointed.

The Given World is published by Simon & Schuster and is out for release on April 14, 2015.

~ by generationgbooks on January 18, 2015.

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