Published by Simon & Schuster on April 14, 2015
Genres: Literary Fiction
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When thirteen-year-old Riley’s brother Mick is declared missing in Vietnam in 1968, it’s as if the center has dropped out of her world. Devastated but refusing to accept the fact that he is probably dead, she turns to booze, drugs, and the affections of Darrell, a boy from the reservation. When he, too, goes away to war in 1973, she flees Montana for the West Coast, desperate to see the ocean. She lands in San Francisco, which isn’t quite the golden paradise she had imagined. Sleeping in her car, on the porch of a friend, and in crumbling apartments, she ekes out a meager living by delivering newspapers and bar-tending. As a means of avoiding her own demons, she acts as a sort of guardian angel for a memorable clan of down-and-out misfits, substance abusers, and homosexuals at the height of the AIDS epidemic.
Eventually, Riley finds her way to Vietnam on a quest for answers — but is she ready to find them? And once she does, will she finally find the courage to return home to face her problems head-on?
Told mainly from Riley’s point of view, The Given World is also woven with the perspectives of some of the characters around her. It felt a little odd that these chapters were clumped together in the first half of the novel instead of spread out more, but it was fascinating to see Riley from the perspective of the people who loved, admired, and worried for her.
Populated by a cast of vibrant, damaged characters and set during a time of massive social change, The Given World by Marian Palaia is a gorgeous debut novel about compassion, redemption, and the effects of war on the people left behind. I loved Palaia’s writing, and Riley’s story is going to be lodged in my heart for quite a while.
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