The Round House, by Louise Erdrich; The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers

The Round House. Louise Erdrich. Book Review: 4.5 stars

Joe is thirteen the year his mother is brutally attacked and raped. She is traumatized and terrified, and won’t discuss the details of the crime. As his father, a tribal judge, tries to use official channels to find and punish his wife’s attacker, Joe watches his mother slip further and further away into solitude and seclusion. With answers not forthcoming and his father’s efforts constantly blocked by complicated questions of reservation and U.S. jurisdiction, Joe enlists his friends to help with his own investigation.

The Round House is a suspenseful crime drama, a coming-of-age story, and a treatise on reservation rights all at once. It’s a great read—thought-provoking, affecting, hard to put down. I think it’s Erdrich’s best work so far. I wanted to give it 5 stars, but the lack of any kind of demarcation of dialogue drove me a little nuts. Worse than NW, which at least marked dialogue in some way, though not with quotation marks, there was no marker for dialogue at all. I’d often get halfway through a paragraph before figuring out if it was dialogue or not.

Good for: Fans of mysteries, crime novels, memoir-style fiction, coming-of-age stories. People who like Stand By Me.

The Yellow Birds. Kevin Powers. Book Review: 4 stars

In Al Tafar, Iraq, Privates Bartle and Murphy fight for their lives, together against what seems less like any particular enemy and more like the grueling, senseless odds of war itself. Told from the perspective of Bartle, looking back on the events of the war that most altered him, and a crime committed that he still doesn’t fully understand, The Yellow Birds might be the best war novel I’ve read.

4 stars

It is beautifully, viscerally written. The language and imagery of the book are exquisite, though the feelings and situations described are harrowing. I had to put the book down a few times, nauseated, but I always picked it back up eventually due to the engrossing story and Powers’s strong voice. It was a fantastic read up until the sudden ending, which was unsatisfying—and based on the news articles I’ve read, a pretty unlikely fate for Bartle. While I’m sure this book had special meaning to Powers, an Iraq war veteran, I hope it is only the beginning of his work.

Good for: Fans of realistic or memoir-style fiction—and it has a lot in common with The Round House.

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