by Douglas S. Reed
Genres: Literary Fiction
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“Take the road less traveled, my son. Always. No exceptions."
These are Hannah's words to her child, spoken to reveal a higher truth of what it takes to live a life of meaning. Most importantly, they are words meant to keep a child away from harm and danger. But one day, mother and son are visited by an old family friend whose arrival brings with it the potential to uncover dark family secrets always intended to stay hidden.
Sparse and simply told, Child of Gilead, is author Douglas S. Reed's long-awaited second novel and is a modern-day parable that seeks to answer the seemingly unanswerable truth, "Do you know me?
Please welcome Sophia Rose back to the blog with a review of Child of Gilead by Douglas S. Reed. You’ll want to add this to your bookshelf. Enjoy!
Sophia Rose’s Review
Described as a modern-day parable, the story’s unvarnished urban setting, spiritual overtones, and emotionally engaging characters delivers a visceral reading experience that can challenge and motivate its readers.
The author was new to me and the genre is not one I reach for as often as I should, but I was quietly anticipating the story when I first read the description. Child of Gilead caught me in the right mood, but I think it also created the right mood when it captured me from the early pages and reminded me of my early years in both my career fields when I was determined to make a difference.
The book has three principal narrators, a ten-year-old boy, his mother, and an old man. These people representing three generations are left stark and mysterious in the beginning with their separate and then interwoven stories slowly becoming a clear, vibrant picture. I enjoyed the mysteriousness at first and the heightened curiosity to learn who they were and what had happened to lead them where they are. There is a bittersweet, nostalgic tone to the story and it is building like a brewing thunderstorm that rumbles closer and closer because the boy has been warned to stay in safety and stay where his mother can protect him, but he is growing up and wishes to spread his wings so he chafes a little at his mother’s rules. Meanwhile, there are predators watching nearby seeing the boy as prey and some knowing more of the boy’s history than he does himself. But, arriving suddenly, the old man becomes a different kind of watcher.
And, surrounding these people and their emerging stories, is the deep spiritual lessons that are being taught and learned. The mother questions God because a tragic, senseless event has happened and her past is checkered with other sorrowful events. A local preacher struggles how to guide her and the rest of his church. The boy is learning the place of religion and what he believes as he sees life around him quite clearly for his age though he is thoughtful- thanks to his mother’s care- to listen and learn, process, and then go forward.
As the story filled in, I saw how each generation had to face what life threw at them and figure out who they were going to be. Besides the young boy, there are other youths who are disadvantaged, but making decisions. There are other parents like the mother who must decide what is important to impassively or choose to actively teach their children. And there are a few older generations who watch and sometimes act to guide the outcome. Repeatedly the question is ask, “Do you know me?” and the advice is remembered “take the road less traveled” – the long way around, the harder way- and it is pivotal to the life choices that were made.
There are bleak moments when I was unsure how it would turn out. Would the mother give in to her sadness and give up? Would the boy toss aside her careful and wise teaching to impulsively go along a darker path? Would the ruthless, greedy, and bad influences have their way against a solitary man who has grown old and possibly too weak to help?
Child of Gilead became a one-sitting read for me as I swiftly turned pages to discover the answers to those questions. I closed the book with a satisfied feeling of hope and found myself flipping back to spots to re-read a section again. It will not be for everyone or, shall I say, for every mood, but I recommend it for when you want to journey into an urban neighborhood with a boy, a mother, and an old man down the road less traveled to ponder, to feel, to take stock, and to wonder.