November 28, 2019
Book Review of River of Love by Aimée Medina Carr, Homebound Publications
Oh, I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
Oh, I wish I had a river so long
I would teach my feet to fly
Oh, I wish I had a river
I could skate away on –River by Joni Mitchell
I read River of Love as a manuscript and saw many revisions. When the review copy came in the mail, I tore open the package and held the paperback in my hands with anticipation. I hadn’t read this version. I knew the author and characters well; however, my delight came with the first chapter when I realized mi comadre, Aimee, had written a best-seller novel on her very first attempt.
I swelled with pride for her accomplishment of wanting to tell a story, working hard to write it, research, edit, polish, and find a publisher. She deserves huge accolades. I know how difficult the business of publication can be, especially for writers of color who have been marginalized for centuries. Writers who have to promote their work to an audience who may not understand the culture or history of being indigenous to this country. A Chicana writer can be compared to other writers, but our stories are unique to our past. We have been struggling to be heard and finally publishers are listening and developing a place for us in their presses.
The fictional story in River of Love comes from heart and imagination but has historical facts, legends, dichos, poems, songs, prayers, and memories. The main character, Rose, loves God, family, education, music, and fights to be recognized in a white community with a history of being the headquarters of the Klan in the 20’s. Racism runs rampant, but Rose falls in love with a white boy from a Catholic Boy’s school for rich kids from far away lands. She has never lived anywhere but Colorado and her tight knit Chicano family has a no dating white-boys rule.
Rose and her sidekick, Cha Cha, her prima on her mother’s side of the family, have adventure and mischief in mind. They long for an education like the one the girls at the Catholic school receive but they are just poor Chicanas and get the generic education at the local public schools. They learn about U.S. History but not about Chicano Culture or their indigenous history of their ancestors who had been leaders and living in the land of Aztlan. They didn’t cross the border; the border crossed them.
Rose has a strict Catholic home, but Cha Cha has parents who are less religious and more into partying. The combination of the two cousins/sisters makes for interesting reading. They sneak around town to do the typical teenage tricks. They smoke marijuana referred to in the seventies as pot, weed, mota, ganja. Cannabis hadn’t been legalized and wouldn’t be for fifty some years. They didn’t belong to gangs, but they kept a close gang of friends that shared in their love of music, pot, and free love. It was the seventies, after all.
The story describes the love affair of a young woman from a tiny town in Southern Colorado and her boyfriend from Australia, who provides pot from his schoolmates who live in Denver and go home on weekends. There are parties galore down at the river, the River of Love.
Aimee, writes about the struggles during the Viet Nam War, the civil unrest of the time, the racism, the poverty, the magic that happens when people fall in love and are torn apart by distance and money. A poor Chicana and a rich white boy in love at that Romeo and Juliet age. Stars that collide and make stardust.
The story contains history, mysteries, music, dancing, family dysfunction, and healing power to rise above poverty. The power of love and family. The power of the River of Love.
I recommend this book to all young women who want to overcome the insecurity of failed romance and the longing to find what really matters in the end. Great friends. Family that loves you. And the kind of success that comes from an education and realizing that love flows in and out of our lives and we have to enjoy each fleeting moment because life is truly short and to experience the richness of this world, one must be awake and aware of their surroundings.
River of Love tells a great story about growing up Chicana in the seventies in a small town full of racism and classism. But this story also contains magical realism and poetry unlike most coming of age stories. This Chicana has what I call the power to heal with words. She healed my heart with her first novel, and I look forward to reading more of her work.