While visiting an indie bookstore in Las Vegas, I picked up We Are Called to Rise based on a bookseller recommendation. Having never heard of author Laura McBride, it was a leap of reading faith. And neither the author nor the book let me down!

McBride writes the novel through the voices of four people with distinct life experiences. My favorite was the eight-year-old boy whose Albanian immigrant parents are struggling to assimilate in boomtown Las Vegas. It turns out he was the author’s favorite character also, and I felt that in how deftly she portrayed his thoughts and feelings.

Two other characters are women living in Las Vegas, with very different roles in the story. While they seem to be about the same age, one is confident and sure of her place in the world and the other is finding her way after a few unexpected changes. The final main character is an Army veteran just returning stateside. Through him, McBride shows us the physical toll that emotional upheaval takes on our bodies. And vice versa.

It must be said that Las Vegas itself is another character in McBride’s work. She tells about the city with truth as brittle as a desert afternoon. Vegas may be a boomtown of action and thrills, but it’s also an intensely sad place of lost dreams and dusty winds. Having regularly visited various places in Nevada over the last thirty years, I can honestly say McBride captures the real Vegas. Just because there are slot machines in every grocery store doesn’t mean it’s a town full of winners.

Given the characters and setting, it makes sense that We Are Called to Rise is about grief. It broke me apart as the author placed me inside each character’s heart and head. But it’s also a story about what it really means to be whole. It shows us how some pieces of the sum of our parts come from the caring actions of another person.

Laura McBride is a academic composition and literature teacher in Las Vegas. Her knowledge of great writing must have helped her craft this well-structured novel. The author uses language in just the right tone and cadence, especially considering the diversity of the character points of view. As a reader, I never felt bogged down in the tragedy but as if I moving to solutions along with the characters.

I only wish I could read a little more about what comes next in their lives.