A terrible tragedy echoes into the lives of each member of a Cherokee family in this lyrical, spare story. After their 15-year-old son Ray Ray is murdered by a police officer, Maria tries to keep the family together, even as her husband battles Alzheimer’s, her youngest son battles addiction, and her daughter becomes obsessed with a younger man. As the anniversary of Ray Ray’s death and Cherokee Independence Day approaches, the family’s resilience is tested.
This is a heartbreaking, beautiful book. I had moments of laughter, moments of horror, and moments of heartache. Each character is well-developed and fascinating, and the book deftly alternates perspectives between family members. Maria is a strong woman devoted to her family and she goes to incredible lengths to keep her family together and the memory of her son alive. Ahead of the anniversary, she agrees to take in a foster child (Wyatt) for a few days and discovers that he is remarkably similar to her dead son. Ernest, battling increasingly severe Alzheimer’s, experiences a miraculous recovery as he interacts with Wyatt. Ernest is convinced that Wyatt is Ray-Ray’s spirit returned to them, and as the story progresses it is easy to feel the same way.
Sonja, their daughter, has an unhealthy obsession with a man named Vin. She follows him and his child for days, learning their routines, until she approaches Vin at a bar. This storyline feels incredibly strange and gross. I never liked Sonja, until the very end of the book when the reason for her obsession is revealed. The storyline is wonderfully twisted and so compelling.
Edgar, their youngest son, is battling a severe meth addiction, and his storyline is truly heartbreaking. As his family reaches out to offer support, he becomes increasingly withdrawn until he ultimately hops on a train and escapes to a mysterious place known as The Darkening Land. I loved his storyline. It’s weird and nightmarish; a world that lies between reality and imagination. The backstory of the town unfolds slowly and the end leaves us wondering.
And finally, the stories of each family member are pulled together by narration from Tsala, a Cherokee ancestor who connects their family history to the Trail of Tears. These chapters are steeped in Cherokee culture and mythology and add a heartbreaking reminder of a terrible history.
I loved absolutely everything about this book. It’s mystical, reflective, engaging, and just beautifully written. One of my favorites of 2020 so far, and a book that will stay with me for a long time.
Have you read The Removed? Let me know what you thought!