Cynthia Bond’s Ruby

In Cynthia Bond’s debut novel, Ruby, she explores many themes including: cult rituals, blindness in faith, and the true strength of love. At its core though, the novel is about one woman’s struggle to regain control of her life amidst a sea of destruction and the man who tries to help her do it.

Ruby and Ephram met as children in the woods one afternoon. Ruby spent most of her time working for a woman a few towns over, so she was barely home, but Ephram never forgot how beautiful she was. From there, Ruby went to NYC in search of her mother who had long since run away, leaving everything behind her, or so she thought. On the outside, she was educated, and she knew how to put herself together, but she never could completely shake away the horrors of her youth. Decades later, she returns to the small Texas town from which she grew up, becoming increasingly haunted by the past, allowing it to reclaim her soul and take over her life in ways that she never could have imagined. It’s only when Ephram gains the courage to show her what it means to be loved unconditionally that Ruby starts to realize just how far she has fallen. Slowly, Ephram brings back the woman that she once was, but will that be enough to drag Ruby out of the darkness, or does the past have too strong a hold on her? Will Ruby be able to let go of it all, or will she remain a prisoner of her own mind forever.

How strong is the power of unconditional love? How strong is the power of faith in yourself, that you can get through anything you set your mind to? Bond asks us these questions again and again in Ruby, but does she give us the answers that we want to hear, does she leave us with a more ugly truth, or does she leave these questions unanswered altogether. In life, we are constantly faced with questions or problems, but rarely a solution. We walk through life with uncertainty, but only the best of us are able to keep living without the answers.

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Laura McBride’s We Are Called to Rise

Published last month by Simon & Schuster, Laura McBride’s debut novel, We Are Called to Rise at its core, is a story about hope and innocence, and trying to preserve hope when innocence is lost. Told in four alternating narratives, we are introduced to a different side of Las Vegas, one that humanizes it and shows you that, in most ways, it is just like everywhere else.

Bashkim is an eight year old boy whose parents immigrated to the US from Albania and own an ice cream truck as a means to providing for the family. Bashkim has a younger sister, Tiriana. They are very poor, often are behind in their bills and sometimes cannot afford to eat. Bashkim’s parents are very old world and there are cultural differences which they cannot understand – although, it could be more a refusal to accept rather than a complete incomprehension. This causes problems for the family from time-to-time, and is the key component to what is essentially the disembodiment of the family.

Luis is an Iraqi war veteran, who’s at a hospital in Washington DC while he recovers both physically and mentally from injuries sustained overseas, and from events that haunt him. Through Bashkim’s school, Luis and Bashkim become pen pals, sending letters back-and-forth. Though neither of them is completely truthful with each other, the letters somehow are able to help both of them in the end.

Roberta is a social worker that really gets into her job, the kind that is affected by the kids that she cannot save, and she cannot save them all. When Bashkim’s life falls apart, she is assigned his case and goes above and beyond, doing everything in her power to bring a little bit of peace to Bashkim and what’s left of his family.

Avis is the mother of Iraqi war veteran, Nate, who is a new member of the Las Vegas Police force. Amidst her crumbling marriage and, subsequently, her life, she sees changes in her son from his last deployment, ones that could become a hindrance given his new place of work. She fears for what her son will do, but is she strong enough to take action towards getting him the help he needs, or will someone fall victim to his mental instability?

We Are Called to Rise, is a brilliant novel about misunderstandings and second chances, and how quickly one’s life can be turned upside-down and forever changed. Simply put: it is amazing, and it has the power to stay with you long after you have finished it.

“There are times when all this pain, all these misunderstandings, all this hatred, has made me wonder if we deserve this beautiful world; if we human beings should really be left in charge of it. But if, sometimes, an unspeakable horror arises from the smallest error, I choose to believe that it’s possibly for an equally unimaginable grandeur to grow from the tiniest gesture of love. I choose to believe that it works both ways. That great terror is the result of a thousand small but evil choices, and great good is the outcome of another thousand tiny acts of care.”

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