Monday, June 16, 2014
Book Review: "Running Secrets" by Arleen Williams
Published: December 30, 2013
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Recommended for readers open to heavier topics
In RUNNING SECRETS, flight attendant Chris Stevens is bent on self-destruction until she meets Gemi Kemmal, an Ethiopian home healthcare provider. Gemi and Jake, a paramedic, help Chris heal from and confront her difficult past, and regain a passion for living. In the process, Chris and Gemi forge an unusual friendship that bridges cultural, racial and age differences. Their friendship gives both women the support each needs. Gemi comes to question restrictive traditions dictating her immigrant life, such as the headscarf she’s worn since entering puberty and the celibacy she’s practiced since the brutal death of her husband and infant in the violence that destroyed her homeland and family. Chris uncovers family secrets that challenge everything she's ever known to be true. Together the women learn that racial identity is a choice, self expression is a right, and family is a personal construct.
This is one of those cases where I was pleasantly surprised. I was drawn to this book because it was written by a Seattle author and is set in Seattle (and we'll just say that Seattle is "local" to Portland, okay?) and I hadn't read anything local in quite a while. The plot, however, sounded a but heavy and potentially melodramatic.
And, to be fair, the plot was heavy, but I didn't find it melodramatic in the least. The main character of Chris has a tough life--her parents, while providing every material thing she could want, failed to ever show her affection or honor her. I will say that I found her parents to be a bit in the mold of the "wicked stepmothers" in fairy tales, but whatever. That was a small thing in my book. The real relationship is the one between Chris and Gemi.
Gemi is a joy. Chris initially describes her as a "Mary Poppins" which is not far off (with the cinematic Mary Poppins...not so much with the literary Mary Poppins). Gemi swoops into Chris's life when she needs her the most and helps her through her dark period. Williams could have easily left that there, but she chose to expand on Gemi's character and give her a life of her own, which endeared her even more to me.
And, back to the local thing, Williams is skilled in creating place. It's one thing to read about a place you've never been and feel like you're there. It's quite a different thing to read about place familiar to you and realize that the author has it just right.
All in all, this was a great read. As I said, it is a bit heavy so I'm not sure I would recommend it to just anyone, but for someone who is in the right head space, this is definitely one to check out.
I was given a copy of this book to read in return for an honest review. I received no other compensation for this post.