Rilla Askew’s Kind of Kin is set in Oklahoma, shortly after the passing of a new law which makes it a felony to harbour illegal immigrants. Ten year old Dustin’s grandfather is arrested after he is caught with a barnful of migrant workers, leaving Dustin with only his Aunt Sweet to look after him. Dustin doesn’t deal too well with his change in circumstances and having to live with his bullying cousin, so with his grandfather refusing to speak in court or help himself, Dustin ends up running away with an immigrant called Luis who managed to evade the police, while Sweet is left behind trying to hold things together.
The setting of Kind of Kin is quite interesting, the characters are lower class and struggle to make ends meet, with the exception of Monica Moorehouse, the politician who brought about the new law. Oklahoma is portrayed as quite harsh, with extreme weather such as floods and ice storms. Some of the people are in favour of the new laws, as they see immigrants as stealing their jobs, while others are more sympathetic, such as Bob Brown, Dustin’s grandfather.
The storyline is reasonably gripping, although it doesn’t really get going until the near the end, where there is a tense stand-off. The novel is more character-driven than action-driven, yet I didn’t find many of the characters to be that likeable. The narrative is told in the third person from different characters, which gives us an insight into them. Dustin is a typical naive and somewhat irritating ten year old, and I found his sections only really served to keep us updated on where he was and what he was doing, which is a driving force for the story, as he keeps disappearing even before he properly runs away.
I felt a lot of sympathy for Sweet, as she struggles to do the right thing for her all her family, yet is faced with the realisation that the right thing for some will harm others. Yet I got annoyed by her choices a lot, as she kept making bad decisions, or didn’t make any at all, and ended up in a mess. She does eventually take what I thought was the right course, but didn’t do a very good job of it.
Askew’s writing style is a bit strange at times. Kind of Kin is generally well written, but I felt that some of the styles used were unecessary. Sweet and Dustin’s narrative styles suited the characters, but the style adopted for Luis came across as stilted and unecessary. His sections are written in English, but in a style of English which has the flow of Spanish, like a Spaniard speaking English. It does serve to demonstrate that he is different to the other characters, and does not speak English, but it did so in such an obvious way that it seemed a little too try-hard.
All in all, I enjoyed Kind of Kin and wouldn’t say no to trying more novels by Rilla Askew, but it wasn’t fantastic and I suspect that once I finish writing this review I will forget all about the novel.
Kind of Kin by Rilla Askew
Published by Atlantic Books, Paperback, July 2013
Many thanks to Atlantic Books for providing a review copy of Kind of Kin.
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