We Are Called to Rise: A Novel
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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2014
Before I get into the real review of this book, I need to tell you that rarely has a book come along that has moved me so much that I am consumed by it. WE ARE CALLED TO RISE has taken over my every thought for the last several days. The emotional attachment to the character of an eight year old boy named Bashkim is so strong that I struggled with finishing this book because that would mean saying goodbye. I'm still not ready to say goodbye; but, you deserve to know about this book and so, here it is.

Las Vegas, Sin City, Boomtown~~whatever you call it, its bright lights and loud noise and big times draw in millions of tourists; but on its outskirts it is also home to Avis, Bashkim, Luis and Roberta, four people who have never met but whose lives are about intersect.

Avis is fifty-three years old. She's been having a hard time feeling romantic with her husband, Jim. But tonight, she's going for it. She's going to seduce her husband.

"I’m in love with Darcy. We’ve been seeing each other for a while.” It was like the gun had gone off. There I was, naked, having just wagged my fifty-three-year-old ass, and there he was, somewhere behind me, knowing what I had been about to do, confessing to an affair with a woman in his office who was almost young enough to be our daughter."

Avis and Jim have been married for nearly all of their adult lives and that marriage is clearly on the rocks. They buried a young daughter named Emily and they raised a son named Nate. Nate is an Iraqi war veteran who after three tours has come home to join the local police force.

Bashkim just loves his teacher, Mrs. Monaghan. She wears pretty red shoes. For a class project, Mrs. Monaghan assigns each student a soldier to write to and Bashkim gets Luis Rodriguez-Reyes. Luis writes back to Bashkim and the letter is not at all what anyone would have expected resulting in a heated discussion between Bashkim's parents who came to America from Albania to escape a torturous past and make a new future for their two children~~eight year old Bashkim and three year old Tirana, and Principal Moore and Mrs. Monaghan.

Luis grew up loved and cherished in the home of his abuela, his grandmother. His mother wasn't ready to have a child, let alone raise an active boy. Luis didn't know his father. Luis is a soldier in Iraq. But right now, he's in a hospital in Washington, DC, and he can't really remember what happened to him that caused his injuries. Sometimes forgetting is best.

Roberta is a volunteer for CASA~~Court Appointed Special Advocates. She has spent the last thirteen years being a voice for children who can't always speak for themselves. Roberta is going to face one of the most heartbreaking cases of her thirteen year career. She's going to meet Bashkim Ahmeti, because he needs her.

These characters will be called upon to rise above their fears, limitations and emotions. They will each play a part in an attempt to right a wrong that was so unjust. The minutiae of their everyday lives will unfold into something so big. And that's like life~~the little choices we make each day color the shades of the bigger picture. Told in the narrative of the four voices, Avis, Bashkim, Luis and Roberta, this story envelopes you and holds you tight. Even at the end, it won't let go of you. This debut novel, loosely based upon a real life tragedy, is going to stay with me, and it will stay with you too. I'm not sure how this author is going to top this, but I intend to read whatever she writes to find out.

✰✰✰✰✰

A copy of this book was granted to me from the publisher via NetGalley. The above opinions are my own.
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 2014
That's the title of Flannery O'Connor's last published work. I believe it applies to Laura McBride's stunning debut novel in that its four disparate characters, whose stories initially appear unrelated, rise off the page to converge plausibly and inevitably, like strands braided together in a rope. The risk taken here is major. Imagine if the reader found one or more of the voices less engaging than the others. She might think, "Oh, no, not this guy again," and skip ahead to the character's chapter whose voice she finds more charming, more immediate. That Ms. McBride dares to take this risk and succeeds is laudable. The sweet yet perceptive voice of eight-year-old Bashkim is one that resonates long after we've left the page; the long-suffering Avis, who attempts and does not always succeed to achieve an emotional balancing act throughout the book, is one we root for while thinking, "Oh, woman"; Luis, whose traumatizing experience in Iraq leaves him a physical and emotional cripple is someone we long to see transcend his woes and afflictions to become the man his Abuela has always known him to be; to complete the quadrumvirate (I've always wanted to use that word), Roberta adds to the storyline a kind of gravitas as she evokes Las Vegas in language that is beautifully poetic yet authentically recognizable, something we don't often get in today's Vegas-based novels. Roberta also serves as a kind of lynch-pin for the other characters. What I feel may be the book's main talent is its fearless approach to emotion. There is an aching quality in these pages which is hard to shake, but at the same time, devastating loss experienced by some of the characters leads to hope and salvation. To be more specific would be to give too much away; suffice to say I appreciate and value Ms. McBride's skill in permitting Avis, Luis, Bashkim, and company to speak to my heart as well as to my intellect. Altogether, a superbly rendered novel, one that has earned my admiration, as its characters have earned my affection.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
WE ARE CALLED TO RISE

What a beautiful book. This must go on your to read list, DEFINITELY. Do not miss this one.

Four different characters tell their story, a story that is welded together tightly and strongly by the voices of these people. Each of these four is a solid individual, yet, through the magic of McBride, their stories coil and interlace, weaving together such an unique and wonderful read.

We met Avis, Luis, Roberta, and young eight year old Bashkim, all living in Vegas. Told from the perspectives of each of these four, their stories start out individually and spin together after one shocking instant, a moment so tragic, horrible, and unbelievable, bringing the future fates of these four people together. Sometimes regarding a great book, saying less is best -- and is very true regarding this book.

Not too many authors can pull off multiple character story lines, but McBride manages to do this smoothly. You will fall in love with each character and the people involved in their own solitary lives. Each character is wonderful and so real in their own way. Their voices are totally different and separate. I fell in love with each character for so many different reasons.

This book has a great plot, fleshed-out and very real characters, tragic situations, and always, always hope shining and waiting at the end of the road. While life altering circumstances happen to each and every main character in this book, each person is left to decide for themselves if they should wallow in their despair and/or snap out of it and carry on to lead a full and good life. The choice is theirs. Your choice is easy -- to read or not read this book? I highly suggest and recommend that you make this the next book you plan to read. This is a story I will think about and remember for a very long time. This book restores your faith in the human race and is also a wonderful book to enjoy.

Laura McBride says -- "I wanted to tell a story that might make a reader have a big feeling, the sense that no matter how cruel or unfair life could be in a given moment, no matter how terrible the consequences of a tiny mistake, it was ultimately beautiful to live. I didn't set out to write a book about war or poverty or racism. i just wanted the reader to love a child enough to feel devastated when that child's heart was broken and euphoric when that child got a chance at hope. I wanted the reader to walk away believing that, with all our faults, human beings are worth something."

Yes. What she said.

Thank you.

Pam
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2015
2.5/5

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. 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 real-life tragedy 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:

1) 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.
2) Bashkim: a smart eight-year-old whose Albanian-immigrant parents own an ice-cream truck.
3) 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.

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.
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34 of 43 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 17, 2014
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This contemporary debut is told in the first-person voices of four people who never should have met--Bashkim, a child of struggling immigrants; Luis, a young, wounded soldier; Avis, a mid-fifties suburban wife whose husband has just asked for a divorce; and Roberta, a children's Court Appointed Special Advocate. The plot is, essentially, a domino of events that bring these characters together. The author paints Las Vegas as a character no less vivid than the people who live there, giving memorable texture to this character-driven story.

WE ARE CALLED TO RISE is a strangely uneven offering that presents several symptoms of the debut novel. Most notably, the author doesn't seem to trust the intelligence of her readers, especially with regard to her themes: paying it forward, random acts of kindness, the butterfly effect, the resiliency of human nature. All of these are hammered into us until Bashkim's final-page epiphany holds less punch than it should. Really, though, Bashkim (and Avis and Roberta) don't need to think these profound thoughts in the first place. The events and the characters' choices would have led us to the profound thoughts for ourselves, if they had been allowed to do so. Hopefully, Ms. McBride's next novel will be written with greater faith in her readers and therefore greater subtlety.

As for the characters themselves, maybe other readers will latch onto Roberta and/or Avis. I never did. Roberta especially has no depth of character; she exists mostly to give the reader information or to opine about the themes and the personality of Las Vegas (the latter of which is interesting). More happens to Avis, but she still frequently comes across as a theme megaphone for the author. And when she's human, her willful blindness to her son's problems is frustrating. Sure, there are parents who delude themselves this far, but I could never feel sorry for her. Ironically, given the themes of reaching out to others, Avis seems abnormally self-centered. Maybe that was the point--a theme mirror of sorts? But I never found her all that unique or compelling as a character.

The boys, though. Eight-year-old Bashkim is a marvelous, realistic kid. His teachers call him a worrier, and his explosively angry father has given him good cause to be. He's somber and conscientious, longs to play sports at school but knows his family doesn't have the money, enjoys watching the sharks in the marine lab. His voice is authentic, perceiving more than the adults realize but convincingly immature when he should be. The things he wonders about, the things he misinterprets--poignant and sweet. Then there's Luis, a Las Vegas native deployed to Iraq, who we meet in a DC hospital after a head injury he can't remember. His voice starts out almost as childlike as Bashkim's (if more profane, appropriately), struggling to remember and even to compose thoughts. The reader learns what happened to Luis as he learns to process and cope with both PTSD and his brain injury. The letters written back and forth between him and Bashkim demonstrate his struggle to regain his verbal skills. He and Bashkim are well written characters, with more detailed personalities than Avis or Roberta's.

The plot moves along at a suitable pace, and I was engaged throughout. The climax/conclusion, however (the final scene is both of these), jumps right off the plausibility cliff. I don't believe this would ever, ever happen. I simply don't. The author could have wrapped up her theme in several other ways that would have been hopeful yet still believable. In addition, quite a bit of the dialogue feels more "informational" than human in its content, often stilted. It's also spotted with unnecessary "yeses" and "nos" and character naming with every new speaker (general examples, not exact quotes: "Roberta, I think we should ..." "Well, Marty, I don't agree..." "But, Roberta..." "I said no, Marty...").

Had the conclusion been a bit more plausible, the dialogue more natural, and the themes less spoon-fed, this would have been a four-star book for me. I found myself invested in the plights of Bashkim and Luis. I wanted them to find safety and healing. I even wonder what will happen to them next and would read a sequel about them. This novel is an unusual mix of things that work and things that don't, but on the whole, I'm glad to have met Bashkim and Luis and Laura McBride's Las Vegas.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 17, 2014
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Laura McBride, first time novelist, has written a tour d force book set in the bowels of Las Vegas. Behind the glitz and glitter many live quiet lives of desperation.

Meet Baskim, a 7 year old boy whose parents are refugees from Albania. His family consist only of Baba, an angry bitter father, Nene, a loving, but lonely, depressed mother, and Tirana, a 2 year old sister. Their tiny income ekes from an ice cream truck and Nene's job at Kohl's. Baskim is often hungry. His elementary teacher and principal rise to the occasion by sharing their lunches and snacks. They listen to Baskim very astutely. This without knowledge of Baba who is erratically suspicious of government personage.

May I introduce Specialist Luis Rodriguez-Reyes and Nathan, both soldiers serving 3 tours of duty in Iraq, returning physically and emotionally damaged to their homes in "Sin City." One accepts help from those that rise to assist; one does not.

Encounter Avis, recently and surprisingly divorced after many years who is the mother of Nathan; Abuela Reyes, Luis's loving grandmother; Roberta, an attorney who volunteers with CASA(child advocate group) and Mrs. Delain, a foster mother who has loved, cuddled, and supported many children over her lifetime.

Baskim, Avis, Luis Rodriguez-Reyes and Roberta are the narrators explaining the situation while introducing other characters who must rise. All of these people's wits, hearts, and souls are tested after a horrible tragedy occurs.

I don't want to indulge too much of the plot, so instead I will deeply encourage you to read this masterpiece of heart-ache assuaged by humanity. Each person rising up to meet the situation as best they are able.

This is an astounding tale not to be missed. The flow is page turning, the characters deeply rooted and sometimes gutted for the reader's understanding. A tale heartbreaking, yet hopeful.

Ms. McBride has based this on a real event that occurred in Las Vegas years ago, pulled from headlines with knowledge from other sources. Fictional, but all too real.

The author was angst to present this tale without severely depressing her audience. She succeeds. Superbly!!

MUST READ to the highest power.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 23, 2015
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I really enjoyed Laura McBride's "We Are Called to Rise." Set in Las Vegas, this novel uses four interrelated narrators to tell an unforgettable story. Avis, the first narrator, is a 53-year-old woman who is suddenly left by her husband. As her story unfolds, we see her love for her child has blinded her to reality. The second narrator is Bashkim, an 8-year-old Albanian boy living with his parents and baby sister in Las Vegas. His story reflects the struggle of immigrants to integrate into American society and to comprehend its culture. The third narrator, Luis, is a soldier recovering from severe PTSD and an attempted suicide at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington DC. He witnessed the horrors of the war in Iraq, and has both physical and psychological trauma to deal with. Finally, the fourth narrator, Roberta, is a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer. Her place in the story will give away too much of the plot, so I will say little about her.

The lives of all these characters begin separately but eventually intertwine. I loved the writing, especially in the first half of the book. The characters seemed realistic, and their situations uniformly heartbreaking. Toward the end, I felt that the author lost the voice of Bashkim, as he began to think and say things that seemed well beyond an 8-year-old. However, this did not spoil the book for me, and I think readers will come to love Bashkim perhaps more than any other character.

This book will appeal to anyone who wants to read a thoughtful reflection on many of the issues we currently confront in America. Among them are domestic violence, grief, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and their devastating effects on the men and women who fought them, our immigration system and its failures, and the lack of connection we have in our communities. I really liked this book, and it deserves 4.5 stars. Highly recommended.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
“We Are Called To Rise,” by Laura McBride, is an exquisitely moving character-driven psychological novel about the “terrible weight of incongruous cause and effect.” It’s a novel about how the strangest coincidences can almost arbitrarily morph into remarkable opportunities. But perhaps more importantly, it is about how everyday people react when they are “emotionally stretched” beyond what they are capable of psychologically handling.

The book takes place in 2008, mostly in Las Vegas, Nevada. The author takes us deep within the interior lives of four very different people: two middle-aged women, an eight-year-old Albanian immigrant boy, and a twenty-something wounded Iraqi war vet. It is the story of how their lives finally come together through a series of tragic and bizarre circumstances to remarkably good effect.

The book is also, very much, a portrait of Las Vegas--the city, as well as the struggling community of emotionally stretched middle class workers that support it’s “Sin City” nightlife and reputation.

I want to stress how much I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and plan to recommend it to my literature-loving friends. But love it as I do, the book is not without some major flaws; that’s why I’m giving it only four stars rather than five. But don’t let the lack of that fifth star deter you! Isn’t it true that some of the best things in life also have glaring flaws? With any beloved flawed thing, the weight and importance of the good things far exceed the bad. I don’t want to take up review space here listing the flaws. The leading three-star Amazon review for this book headed “Flawed but compelling,” (by reviewer A. Grace) does an outstanding job of outlining them. I differ from that reviewer only in how much I enjoyed this novel, despite its flaws.

By the time I am writing this review, there are already over a hundred reviewers who’ve made it clear that they love this book. The main point I wanted to add to this discussion is that this book is, indeed, very special. It’s an honest, realistic, and searing portrait of contemporary life in America. It satisfies the soul and intellect. It delves deeply into the human condition. It grabbed me by my heartstrings and never let go.

Laura McBride is a highly competent new literary novelist. She’s a writer with amazing talent for revealing the subtle and often conflicting realities of everyday life. I can’t wait to read her next novel. I hope some foundation discovers her and gives her a grant (like the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship) so she can quit that community college job and start writing novels full-time! And Hollywood, are you listening? This plot would make an incredibly compelling movie.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a powerful novel with a very strong and resonant style , so much so that it is hard to believe that this is a debut novel ( one inspired by real events). Author Laura McBride vividly portrays the lives of 4 people who are forced to cope with a sudden tragic event. As the tension builds in the days following the crisis, their lives do indeed converge, often in unexpected ways.

This is a a timely work, likely to promote discussions about how to prevent the type of deadly accident which is all too familiar, a shooting which could be ripped from the daily headlines (and in this case, as noted above, was inspired by an actual event). McBride explores the theme of sudden violence and tragic consequences with an individual style and voice

Of the four people who are at the center of the novel, it is the young immigrant boy, Bashkin, who leapt from the page for me. I ached for him, a child who suddenly loses so much, his life turned upside down. McBride goes beyond simplistic descriptions and reveals the impact of trauma on the life of a child. Bashkin's struggles and confusion forced me to wonder how we can help children cope in the face of crisis. The child is so believable that I longed to reach out and try to comfort him. The other characters are also vivid, each connected to the others. They are forced to handle their pain, confusion, and doubts - and ultimately try to find their bearings, reach for forgiveness (or at least accept the fact that their lives are forever changed).

.If all this seems too dark, I can only add that it didn't strike me that way. A major part of the wonder of this book is that McBride writes like a seasoned pro and maintains a steady and strong pace which never wavers. I deducted a star only because there was one event (which I won't disclose or it could spoil the book for potential readers) which seemed a stretch, the only section that didn't wholly ring true for me. But ultimately, this didn't mar the basic impact of this impressive novel.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
This book has a lot to say - and it says it eloquently through the voices of the four primary characters who speak - an 8-year old child of Albanian immigrants, the mother of an emotionally fraught Vegas cop, a committed social worker, and rattled Gulf War vet. Don't worry if it doesn't sound like "your kind of book" the themes are universal ones of challenge, character, uncertainty and redemption. You won't be disappointed.
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