We Are Called to Rise

18271235We Are Called to Rise
Laura McBride
Published June 3, 2014
309 pages (hardcover)

On February 12, 2008, a tragedy occurred in Las Vegas. An Albanian-immigrant mother was shot and killed by a police officer during an otherwise routine traffic stop. She was standing beside her ice-cream truck when she was shot . . . and her children were standing with her (you can read more here):

The facts of the case were strongly disputed (and the inquest itself was so confusing and improper that it was said to represent “a new low in the history of such proceedings”), but the officer was eventually exonerated.

This is the true story on which Laura McBride’s fictional book, We Are Called to Rise, is based. Deshira Selimaj’s story “stuck with” Laura McBride, so she used it as “a jumping-off point” for this book in which several unrelated characters are brought together unexpectedly by this terrible central event.

The book revolves mainly around three characters, with alternating chapters told in first person by each of them:

  • Avis: a middle-aged mother whose decades-long marriage is dissolving (her husband, an executive at MGM, is leaving her for a younger woman). She has one grown son, Nate, who did three tours in Iraq before returning to Las Vegas and becoming a police officer.
  • Bashkim: a smart eight-year-old whose Albanian-immigrant parents own an ice-cream truck.
  • Luis: a soldier who gets severely injured and ends up in a rehab hospital in DC.

There are also a few chapters told by Roberta, a native Las Vegan and CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) volunteer.

The book is about three-hundred pages long, but the characters’ stories don’t intersect until around page 175. There is a lot of exposition and character development before the big event (based on the true story) takes place.

Rating: 2.5/5

There’s nothing particularly bad about this book . . . but, on the flip side, there’s nothing particularly good about it, either. It reads easily, the characters are likable enough, the setting (mostly off-Strip Vegas) is somewhat interesting. But, despite obvious attempts to portray tragedy and hardship realistically, it comes off as overly simplistic and idealized. It seems like a sheltered, middle-aged woman is writing about how she imagines tough times would be. The ending is a little too neatly (and unrealistically) wrapped for my liking. 

I liked the fact that the story was based on real events, and I wish I had known that going in (I found out from the Author’s Note at the end of the book). Doing a bit of research about Deshira Selimaj and her surviving family made the book’s plot more meaningful and powerful. But the book should have been able to handle that standing alone, and I don’t think it does.

The hype:

  • the #1 Indie Next List pick for June 2014

Who should read it: Vegas natives (McBride is from Vegas, and this is as much a book about Vegas as it is about the central tragedy).

Want to read along with me? A review of this book is coming soon:

  •  The Empathy Exams: Essays by Leslie Jamison (winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize; an Entertainment Weekly “Must List” Pick; a Publishers Weekly “Top Ten Essay Collection of Spring 2014”)

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