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Oklahoma's best-kept secret is at it again, as Rilla Askew steps out of her usual historical fiction with Kind of Kin, a novel that touches on both the timeless theme of family bonds and the timely theme of illegal immigration regulation.
Bob Brown's arrest shocks the citizens of tiny Cedar, Okla. In Bob's estimation, he's "a felon because he's a Christian." In an exercise in radical discipleship, Bob agreed to hide a handful of frightened illegal Mexican immigrants in his barn, only to find himself betrayed to the law by someone close to him. In his absence, his daughter, Sweet, takes over the care of her orphaned nephew, Dustin, one more worry for her overtaxed nerves. Sweet's already dealing with a tight household budget, her husband Terry's bedridden great-grandpa, Terry's constant out of town trips for his job with the gas company and a son even she admits is turning into a bully. When Dustin runs away, Sweet finds herself in the middle of a media circus involving a rabidly ambitious state representative just as Dustin's older sister comes to her seeking shelter for her husband, an illegal alien who has returned to the U.S. after his deportation to Mexico. The center cannot hold, and Sweet's life spirals out of control--straight into a standoff involving a vicious sheriff and Sweet's pastor and church congregation.
Oklahomans will recognize the Sooner State on a deep level in Kind of Kin; this is much more than a few mentions of Oklahoma City's Penn Square Mall or the Choctaw Nation to set the scene. Vividly authentic, Askew's portrayal of small-town, working-class Oklahoma encompasses its gossipmongering and fear of the unknown without mockery, as well as renders its core values, tenacious spirit and bone-deep sense of hospitality without becoming trite or twee. Rather than make a simple political statement, Askew has crafted an uncannily real cast of characters whose attempts to go about their daily lives and care for their families intersect with issues of church and state, conservative versus liberal politics and the choice between the right way and the easy way. A winner for book clubs, Askew's foray into contemporary fiction is the perfect vehicle to introduce new readers to this talented and under-recognized voice. Her sensitive and humanizing treatment of this hot-button issue is sure to provoke thought and discussion no matter what readers' political leanings may be.
***This review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness. Sign up for this free and awesome newsletter at http://www.shelf-awareness.com for the latest news and reviews! This review refers to an ARC provided by Shelf Awareness.***