Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Book Review: Peace Like a River

I recently finished this incredible book, Peace Like a River by Leif Engler. I love books that make you laugh and cry simultaneously and this was one of them.

The story is set in a small Minnesota town. An 11-year-old boy is the narrator, his name is Reuben. His 8-year-old sister, Swede, is a pistol - precocious, smart, a gifted writer and story teller. She is fascinated with outlaws and stories of the west. They have a 16-year-old brother and a deeply religious father - a gentle, wise, forgiving man that would do anything for his family.

Without giving away too much of the plot, the 16-year-old guns down two high school thugs when they break into their home. The town turns against him, the trial goes sour and he breaks out of jail. The family leaves town to try to find him.

There are a few things in particular that resonated with me in this story. One is the way Reuben witnesses the miracles of his father that go unnoticed by everyone, including the family. These amazing, ethereal events are told in such a soft, gentle way, that the peacefulness of them just seem to wash over you:
"He walked right off the edge of the truck...
And did not fall.
Dad's boots touched the tops of a thatch of tall grama
growing up among the thistles,
and they waved as if stroked by the wind."

The other is the relationship that Reuben and Swede have. There was another reviewer that compared them to Scout and in To Kill a Mockingbird and I agree. Like two cohorts, they have an amazingly strong bond. It's really very touching. In one scene, they are driving in a freezing cold car to go hunting for geese with the family. They are buried in blankets and Swede slips off her boots. She puts her icy cold toes against his hip. He pulls them into his lap and starts to rub them to keep them warm. She promptly drifts off to sleep.

And of course, I love Swede and her poems of Sunny Sundown, the honest law-abiding citizen turned outlaw:
His clothes and hat were black as ink, his dancing mustang pale,
His eyes were blue and hard enough to make the sun turn tail.
He said, "You want to hang this man, I'll give you each the same.
I don't much like a mob," said he, "and Sundown is my name."

I can usually gauge a book to be one that I will like within the first paragraph, sometimes the first page. This one had me at the first sentence:
"From my first breath in this world, all I wanted was a good set of lungs
and the air to fill them with..."

Hooray for great books such as this! If you have a particularly inspirational book that you've read recently, please share! I'm always on the lookout for a new recommendation!


chocolate girl said...

oh my, this book sounds wonderful...i am awaiting 'eat love pray'. a good friend is sending it to me, and asking that i pass it on as well when i am done...(lovely idea), kinda like 'sisterhood of the traveling book'...have you read this book? i have heard so many great reviews and that it is lifechanging. i cannot wait to read it.

Donna said...

Sounds like a great book Jen! I love that first sentence of the book!
Mom :)

Kari & Kijsa said...

We love a good book....I have two waiting for me saying...."!" Thanks for your sweet comment on our blog!

smiles, kari and kijsa

Sunnispace said...

oh m'gosh - we were just talking about "Eat, love, pray" this week! I heard it's fabulous - now that you mention it, too, I might have to get it!