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Not to be Overlooked

By Anna Hall and Natalia Alvarez

Not to be Overlooked introduces a variety of wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great reads. This week’s column covers a review of Lucky Red by Claudia Cravens and Where We Come From by Oscar Cásares.

Lucky Red by Claudia Cravens

Reviewed by Anna Hall

Claudia Cravens draws us back in time to the Wild West in her debut novel Lucky Red. Instead of the pages being run by a Calamity Jane or a Buffalo Bill, readers are drawn into the world of an orphan turned brothel worker. Bridget is nicknamed Lucky Red for her eye-catching hair and her affinity for being in the right place at the right time with the right people. Ironically, though, she finds herself in the first act starving and penniless in Dodge City after the death of her father, only to be recruited to work at the Buffalo Queen, the only brothel in town run by two women.

Before the Buffalo Queen, Bridget didn’t experience much of the world outside her front porch. Constantly waiting for her fun-loving but irresponsible father, Bridget’s world consisted of taking care of their small farm, cooking dinner and restlessness. By the time Bridget reaches the Buffalo Queen she knows about as much about the world as the four walls she grew up in and the desert she dragged herself through to get to Dodge. Cravens plays on this juxtaposition of naivety and worldliness through the main character and the people who work for the Buffalo Queen. 

Throughout the novel Bridget is constantly brought back to the reality that someone else has a say over what she does and who she is. This lack of control over one’s fate drives both Bridget and the reader to a point where they want to shake the pages until the words tumble into terrible relief. That’s what Cravens does so beautifully in her debut novel. She lures the reader to the edge of their seat, laughing as they wait for the point of no return, and at the moment where there seems to be no big break she pulls the rug out from under the reader and Bridget. And with a feminine rage that is only acceptable in a dystopia or the Wild West, Bridget transforms into Lucky Red.

Lucky Red is a novel about strong, smart and resilient women living in a time and place where no one really cared what a woman was beyond her body. Every woman in the Buffalo Queen has a different story that has led them there and throughout the book readers slowly learn what type of life a woman had to live for an ounce of freedom not given to them by a man. Cravens drives the hammer through the nail with the relationship between Bridget and the Sheriff. As Bridget fights for their interactions, though transactive, to remain a friendship, her resistance to the Sheriff only leads to another point in time where Bridget's life is dictated by someone else.

Lucky Red is an enjoyable read. It has all the makings for a great time - strong flawed female characters, feminine rage, queer representation, witty friends and sneaky rivals. It’s an excellent book for a comfy night in with enough excitement to have the reader wanting to figure out what happens next. 

Where We Come From by Oscar Cásares

Review by Natalia Alvarez 

What do you do when the lines between right and wrong become blurred? In Oscar Cásares’ novel Where We Come From, this is a question that is asked many times over as characters tackle moral dilemmas and familial obligations. Cásares has created a captivating tale examining the lives of one Hispanic American family through multiple generations as well as the lives of multiple minor characters we meet along the way, struggling to survive and find a place in the United States. This is a novel full of references to border life that those who have had similar experiences will greatly appreciate.

In order to showcase a wide range of characters, Cásares uses multiple points of view to tell his story, starting with a middle-aged woman named Nina who has given up her aspirations in order to aid her ailing mother. While she comes from a multiple sibling household, her status as the only daughter brands her as the “caregiver” and only feasible choice for this position. Cásares does a wonderful job showcasing life for daughters in a patriarchal dominated household and the toll this can take on the family as a whole. 

The novel shifts gears after Nina reluctantly agrees to allow her housekeeper's daughter a place to hide after being brought over from Matamoros, the Mexican city bordering Nina's hometown of Brownsville Texas. What was intended as a onetime favour quickly becomes blackmail after the coyotes arrive with more people than expected and a promise that Nina will be held complicit unless she allows further use of the pink guest house attached to her property. As months go by, Nina receives word that her nephew Orly, who is dealing with first the news of his parents’ divorce, then the sudden death of his mother, will be coming from Houston to stay over the summer in the hopes that border life will “toughen him up.” 

Nina resolves to end her dealings with the Coyotes, however, her plan is derailed when a young boy being transported named Daniel reappears on her doorstep, having avoided capture and deportation from the police. Nina must ensure Daniel’s presence is kept a secret from not only Orly, but her entire family whom she knows would never understand why she has allowed Daniel to stay for so long. 

Full of love, desperation and humanity, Where We Come From is sure to break your heart and put it back together again. This is a novel that prioritises the importance of compassion and reminds readers that everyone has a story buried away. 



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