2 out of 4 stars
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When I was scrolling through books for review, this one caught my eye. As an immigrant, I absolutely love the diversity that America is so proud of; at the same time, however, I have to admit that I am ignorant about some other cultures and some other immigrant stories. I thought this book would be an eye-opening read and a chance to broaden my view of the world—and I was right. American River: Tributaries by Mallory M. O’Connor is a poignant story about three immigrant families living in California—one Irish, one Japanese, and one Mexican. The story actually begins all the way back in the mid 1800s, with the ancestors of these families. But Owen and Marian’s story starts in June of 1959, and when Marian leaves their family ranch to become an artist, the families’ different stories become one, even years later.
I rate this book 2 out of 4 stars. What I love about this book is how realistically it depicts diversity and culture. This book was not a story about a picture perfect family, or about a hero with a tragic backstory; the story felt real. I think this is a book that many people, especially those who have found themselves in an unfamiliar environment, could relate to. In fact, American River: Tributaries hit very close to home for me personally, as I am an immigrant myself and have often heard stories about how hard my parents had to work to get our family to where it is today.
I thought that this book, in terms of plot, could have some improvements in terms of flow. There are some time jumps and some scene changes between different families, and sometimes they were a bit hard to follow. Although I loved the diverse character cast, I also had trouble remembering which story matched up with who and where they had previously left off. I still really liked how the story spanned several generations and how, at the end, it seemed to come full circle and revisit relationships between some of the earlier characters.
Speaking of the characters, I think they were very realistic in the way that they acted, but like I mentioned before it was sometimes overwhelming and difficult to follow so many. The cast of characters at the beginning helped, but I would have liked it if the story delved into more depth about a smaller cast. For example, one of the character arcs especially stood out to me—the book followed the development of someone who was queer and was struggling to come to terms with their own identity and with their position in the world. I respect the author very much for addressing such a modern and relevant issue.
I think the author did an amazing job of striking a balance between a pragmatic and a romanticized storyline. For example, one of my favorite character pairings was Mary Katherine McPhalan, also known as Kate, and Tommy Ashida. They had an extremely interesting relationship dynamic because of differences in race and culture, and I found this also extremely relatable, as I am someone who has struggled to reconcile with both Western and Asian traditions. Kate and Tommy’s storyline was almost bittersweet, but I thought it was a beautiful representation of the melting pot America is known as.
The writing style was also great, and I especially loved the line that explained how humanity was linked together, like tributaries of a stream. I only found one error in the entire book, which was a missing period. One thing I do have to mention though, is that there is one line that I felt extremely uncomfortable with. During a sex scene between a male and a female character, the girl calls the male an animal and follows that with, “You practically raped me.” She then says that she loved it. Though the two characters were having consensual sex, it seems as though the extremity of rape is removed and disregarded in this sentence and almost placed in a positive context. The author probably did not intend for it to seem this way, but I personally feel like this line was in very poor taste.
Overall, however, I would still recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of memoirs, historical fiction, or contemporary novels. In fact, anyone who is interested in reading about the lives of immigrants and different cultures would probably enjoy this read, and it certainly is eye-opening, especially since America is currently in such a state of political turmoil.
American River: Tributaries
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