Title: American River: Tributaries
Author: Mallory M. O’Connor
Genre: Historical Fiction
American River: Tributaries follows the lives of three families of Irish, Mexican, and Japanese descent. Though their ancestors all settled on the American River in Northern California, the generations following spread out across the country, making the families’ interconnection all the more unlikely. But as the characters’ lives overlap and collide, they undergo tremendous growth and are opened to new levels of understanding of each other, of life, and of themselves.
The story follows all the members of the three families and the changes that time brings them. For the McPhalans, things are changing on the Mockingbird Valley Ranch as the children are growing up, the adults are growing old, and the family is growing apart. The Ashida family, who work for the McPhalans, have their own struggles as they cope with being one of two Japanese families in the area, just over a decade after being released from internment camps. Familial relationships are even more strained in the Morales family, a Mexican-American, interracial family who is divided because of the resentments and grudges they cling to.
As the years go by, the families become more intertwined and their relationships become more complicated. Each character’s introduction and individual story is engaging, and their involvement in other characters’ lives is seamless and natural. Though there are many, the characters are thoroughly developed and perfectly imperfect. Their flaws are raw and real, often speaking to the time period they live in. With a diverse group of characters of various cultural backgrounds, sexual orientations, and economic statuses, O’Connor tackles discrimination, homophobia, and sexism in a way that is tasteful but stays true to the difficult and complex situations the characters face.
The plot is extremely fluid and the writing is well-executed; the various storylines are never confusing and perfectly align with each other, while the simple, but artistic, language sets a distinct mood and voice for each character. The scenes were never information-heavy and always contributed to the development and escalation of the plot. The tragic ending that unites the three families reminds us that despite our differences, unity and love overcome even the most stubborn prejudices.
At the beginning of the book, there is a “Cast of Characters” section which lists all the characters in the book, as well as a brief description of them. Though it seems helpful, the inclusion of this list of characters actually hinders the reader’s experience. In fact, one of the descriptions in the character list includes a minor spoiler that would have been better off left for the readers to uncover at their own pace.
In addition, including a section like this emulates a lack of confidence on the author’s part of her ability to clearly organize the story so that each character is distinct and memorable enough for the reader to keep track of them, thus needing to reference the character list. However, the list and the accompanying descriptions were unnecessary because, for O’Connor, her characters’ voices, personalities, and lifestyles were so unique, memorable, and engaging that it was nearly impossible to forget them or their role in the novel.
Filled with descriptions of the beauty and grace of some of the United States’ greatest cities and areas, American River: Tributaries is a true American story. As it delves into the realities of the various divides Americans coped with in the sixties, readers will be rooting for O’Connor’s characters as they navigate the difficult spaces their identities attempt to force them into. AR: Tributaries is the perfect start to a series about family, pain, love, identity, and life in America.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Editorial Review written by the Book Review Directory Production Team. To receive a similarly honest, professional review for one of your own books, click here.