Review: Kind of Kin by Rilla Askew

Kind of KinA richly comic yet heartfelt novel about people who want to do right and still do wrong, and people who do right in spite of themselves, as they try to help, protect, and provide for those they love most when a draconian new state law threatens an ordinary American family and throws a close-knit community into turmoil.
All of Cedar, Oklahoma, is shocked when Bible-believing Bob Brown and his friend, Pastor Jesus Garcia, are tossed in the county jail for hiding a barn-full of Mexicans. Thanks to an ambitious blonde state legislator and her politically shrewd husband, it’s a felony to harbor an undocumented immigrant in the Sooner State.
It’s bad enough that her Christian daddy is a felon, but now John Brown refuses to defend himself, creating a mess of trouble for his daughter, Sweet. She’s got enough on her hands caring for her husband’s bedridden elderly great-grandfather, and trying to keep her son, Carl Albert in line. Now, she’s got her ten-year-old nephew Dustin to worry about, too. A quiet and thoughtful boy, Dustin hasn’t had it easy. His mother is dead, his older sister Misty Dawn is looking for her recently deported husband, and Carl Albert beats up on him. Sweet is trying to hold it all together, but the more she tries to fix things, the faster her life unravels. When Dustin disappears and Misty Dawn shows up with needs of her own, Sweet’s sense of guilt and responsibility drive her to desperate actions that test her family, friends, and neighbors in unexpected and revealing ways.
A story of self-serving lawmakers and complicated lawbreakers, Christian principle and political scapegoating, Rilla Askew’s funny and poignant novel explores what happens when upstanding people are pushed too far-and how an ad-hoc family, and ultimately, an entire town, will unite to protect its own.” – Goodreads

Kind of Kin by Rilla Askew is a thought-provoking and timely novel regarding the the United States and its immigration issues, focusing on one family in particular and those who they are closest to. It is a story about family (of all kinds), home (wherever that may be), and about the intimately moral questions people are faced with in the moment of truth. This novel addresses a very serious national issue – one with no easy answer. Askew has done an excellent job writing about the controversial topic of “illegal immigrants,” creating characters and a storyline that are both true-to-life and captivating.

Georgia Ann Brown was named so by her mother, but everyone calls her Sweet. Her mama deserted the family when she was just a child; her sister died young and left their father, John, to raise her daughter, Misty, and son, Dustin. Out of the blue, John Brown is arrested for harboring undocumented workers at his farm – sending him to jail, and Dustin to live with Sweet, her husband, Terry, and their son, Carl Albert. Unfortunately for John, state Representative Monica Moorehouse has just passed bill 1830, which makes it a felony to harbor “illegal aliens”, carrying with it a significant prison sentence. Dustin’s sister, Misty, is unable to join the family in its time of need; she has suffering of her own – she herself is married to an “illegal alien” who has recently been deported back to Mexico. Soon Misty is calling Sweet for assistance, as well, adding to the simmering pot of pressure she is under that is about to hit its boiling point. Meanwhile, Carl Albert is bullying Dustin, who then runs away, meeting a new friend – Luis, one of the undocumented workers who escaped the raid on Dusty’s grandfather’s farm. The two hatch a plan to help each other out – but will it only cause more heartache and trouble?

The story is shared through several different narratives. From Sweet and her father, John Brown, Dustin, Representative Moorehouse, to Luis, Askew masterfully weaves these personalities together to create a melting pot of depth and richness. As we move through the novel, we see more and more the impact and divisiveness of this issue across our nation. With the various narratives, Askew is able to give us a good, long look at the complexities of the issue at hand – as though she is holding the book open for us, saying, “Here. See? It’s not so easy now, is it?”

There is so much happening at all times in this book. The Brown family’s lives are messy and complicated, adding an authentic touch of real life to the story. Despite the many areas of focus, Askew manages to seamlessly weave these events together, creating a smooth and fast-paced read. I was on the edge of my seat, with dread in the pit of my stomach, as events began to  merge and to culminate in one big Okie showdown between the town and the law (where else?) right in front of the town church. In the end, Kind of Kin is a tale of standing up for what one believes in and of pushing forward with the faith that things will end up as they should be.

I did appreciate this novel greatly. I think that it was a bit dry or dull at times, but the rest of the time things moved at a terrific pace. It truly did give me pause to think about where we are with immigration law today – in the past I worked at an agency that worked with undocumented workers and it was often on my mind at that time, but it has been a long time since then. It’s easy for those kinds of “bigger picture” things to become a distant problem in our minds. Reading about the intricacies of the many different people affected daily by these laws brings it back down to “real” for me. I would like to thank Rilla Askew for doing that for me.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Lincoln City Libraries Digital Downloads

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