REVIEW: Go as a River by Shelley Read

In brief: Victoria’s life is changed after meeting a stranger on the street of a small town. What she does next will be guided by his parting words, ‘go as a river’.

The good: Well written and captivating story.

The not-so-good: I read this over the course of a weekend!

Why I chose it: Thanks to Penguin for suggesting this book to me.

Year: 2023

Pages: 305

Publisher: Doubleday (Penguin)

Setting: Colorado, USA

Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Go as a River is a wonderful debut novel, a read that is made all the better for not knowing too much about the storyline before reading. It is told in the first person by Victoria, a teenager living on the family farm with her father, brother and uncle in 1940s Colorado. Victoria carries the burden of the household work and none of her family are thankful, rather it is expected and demanded of her. When she meets Wil on the street of her small town, something clicks. He understands her and suddenly her whole outlook on life is expanded outside the farm’s boundaries. What happens next and over Victoria’s life is guided by her time with Wil and as she becomes a stronger, independent woman.

The story is at times shocking, at others sorrowful and of course, joyous. Victoria is very pragmatic as she grows older, but she is also feisty, knowing what she wants and how to go about getting it – except where her biggest secret is concerned. She’s hiding from everyone the most painful moments in her life – not that there are many people close to her after the suffering she witnessed and experienced. She’s a very worthy heroine, flawed and well crafted down to the last detail. In comparison, her family are cruel and/or ignorant and Read (what a great surname for an author!) doesn’t hold back. The cruelty that is inflicted by Victoria’s brother on her and Wil is xenophobic and ignorant through a modern lens. Victoria’s father is broken, but hides it well behind farming duties. And Uncle Og, left disfigured by the war, has his own pent-up anger to inflict on others. In contrast, there are well meaning characters in Go as a River, who help Victoria through her darkest days. These characters such as Ruby-Alice and Wil, are seen as strange and foreign by the community, and shunned for their perceived differences. But they have the greatest kindness and don’t judge others based on surface characteristics.

One thing that gave me concern before I started this novel were the comparisons to Where the Crawdads Sing (which I really didn’t enjoy because of the changes in genres). Don’t believe the comparisons, Go as a River is much more enjoyable and realistic. There are beautiful passages about the nature in the hills and the river, but it’s not over the top. The characters are believable, as are the plot developments and chain of events Victoria is exposed to. It’s well plotted and much more memorable with its heartbreaking scenes and promise of a happier future.

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