The City and the Writer: In Tulsa With Rilla Askew
interview in Words Without Borders
A conversation about the Tulsa Race Riot and America's unhealed racial wounds
personal essay in This Land
personal essay in Longreads
essay on place in This Land
The Fire This Time
article about the Tulsa Race Riot and Fire in Beulah
The Tornado That Hit Boggy
personal essay in TriQuarterly
Writing Out Loud: Kind of Kin
2013 TV Interview with Teresa Miller
Writing Out Loud
2012 TV Interview with Teresa Miller
Race and Redemption in the American Heartland
essay in Transatlantica with an introduction by Francoise Palleau-Papin
The Smokescreen of Race in America
personal essay in Oklahoma Humanities Magazine
Passing: The Writer's Skin and the Authentic Self
personal essay in World Literature Today
Kind of Kin
What might have been a political polemic or a partisan pitch in the hands of a lesser writer, Rilla Askew’s fourth novel is a study in the categories and contradictions that dissolve families, dissect communities, and split nations. With a topic as incendiary as immigration at the story’s core, Askew could have trod heavily over her subject matter and garnered passionate responses from both sides of the political divide. Instead she personalizes the issue, exploring with a deft hand and an unflinching moral vision the gray areas of an argument so often presented in black and white.
Set in the tiny, churchgoing town of Cedar, Okla., “Kind of Kin” is a democratic novel, employing multiple points of view across a dynamic range of characters. Dustin is a thoughtful 10-year-old boy with a bruised heart and no parents, who fiercely loves his grandfather. Said grandfather, Bob Brown, a born-again community mainstay, is currently behind bars for harboring illegal Mexican immigrants in his barn, leaving Dustin to live with his aunt. There’s also Luis Celayo, a well-intentioned but doomed immigrant searching far and wide for his sons; Monica Moorehouse, a self-serving lawmaker determined to make a name for herself in national politics with her recent anti-¬immigrant legislation; and Arvin Holloway, a bullying, egocentric sheriff who enforces the law with an iron fist and can’t resist the slightest whiff of media attention. All of them are vividly drawn by Askew, who juggles their divergent perspectives to create a broader view of the events as they unfold.
But at the heart of the novel is Sweet Kirkendall. It is her efforts to restore order in an increasingly chaotic universe that ultimately earn the reader’s trust. What’s left of Sweet’s family is falling apart at its threadbare seams. Her father, Bob, has been jailed and is scheduled to stand trial. Worse, on the sage legal advice of a drug dealer, he refuses to defend himself against the charges. Sweet’s son, Carl Albert (named for the Oklahoma congressman), is bullying Dustin daily, to the point where Sweet fears their schoolteachers will notice. As if that’s not enough, her father-in-law exists in a vegetative state in her living room and needs constant care, which Sweet is unable to provide. Adding to this litany of woes, Sweet’s niece is also harboring an illegal immigrant — her recently deported husband, who has returned to the States unannounced. And meanwhile, Sweet has virtually nobody to turn to for support. Her husband, who unbeknown to her has been keeping an ugly secret, works long hours, often off the grid and completely out of contact.
Down to a few precious dollars and dwindling resources, Sweet is nearly out of patience by the time the narrative begins picking up steam. Askew’s solid prose serves the pulse of the story without calling much attention to the author — and make no mistake, this story has a furious pulse. Weighty themes and extraordinary circumstances quickly converge in a manner reminiscent of another tale of cultural collisions, T. C. Boyle’s terrific 1995 novel, “The Tortilla Curtain.” Askew may not exhibit Boyle’s signature brand of verbal exuberance, nor is she quite Boyle’s equal in the arena of biting wit (though she comes admirably close in her portrayal of Sheriff Holloway); still, she paces her story masterfully. The reader turns the pages with a mounting sense of anticipation and dread, as the disappearance of Sweet’s nephew, along with her father’s impending trial, leads to a media blitz, all manner of political posturing and eventually a standoff at Cedar’s First Baptist Church. Throughout the escalating action, Sweet is continually called upon to make big decisions with enormous consequences, pitting her Christian ethics against her civic duties, in an effort to do the right thing.
If the novel casts Sweet Kirkendall in a heroic light, State Representative Monica Moorehouse assumes the role of villain. With her affected drawl and strategic wardrobe choices, Moorehouse, encouraged by her crack political-¬adviser husband, is a woman so hardened by politics that she expresses active contempt for her constituents (“How many times do I have to tell you not to say ‘these people,’ ” her husband reminds her). She can hardly stand Oklahoma, which she hopes to escape soon for the greener political pastures of Washington, D.C. Among all the characters, including the illegal immigrants, Moorehouse distinguishes herself as the novel’s outsider. Although she speaks in terms of high-¬minded principles, her only real concern seems to be personal achievement. Positioning herself for a photo-op after pushing through a bill with an “English only” provision, “she happened to glance over her shoulder and realized that the Indians were standing in the food line behind her, looking just entirely too dignified and offended.”
Moorehouse, however, is not the only self-serving character on display in “Kind of Kin.” Logan Morgan, the young television reporter who breaks the news story that frames the novel, is just slightly less repulsive in her motives. Morgan hopes for even more tragedies to befall those involved in the events she covers, if only to give her story legs. Likewise, Sheriff Holloway, formerly a “chuffy little coward, intimidator, bellowing schoolyard tyrant,” has “translated these lifelong traits into a fine law enforcement career.”
These three characters in particular present one side of what is arguably the biggest divide in “Kind of Kin”: a divide in values. Moorehouse, Morgan and Holloway enthusiastically cast aside other people in favor of their individual stations, betraying only the flimsiest sense of duty to anyone but themselves; whereas Sweet, Dustin and Bob Brown, and Luis Celayo — all of whom are already working at various disadvantages — are willing to put their personal welfare, and even their safety, on the line for the sake of what they see as the greater good.
Beyond its political, racial and religious underpinnings, “Kind of Kin” is also a novel about class. Askew juxtaposes the cushy life afforded a supposedly public official like Monica Moorehouse, whose primary concerns seem to revolve around the perfect shade of hair color and public perception, with the struggles of the Kirkendall-¬Brown clan as they scrape by dollar to dollar, minute to minute. While the Moorehouses and Holloways of this world relish their stature and covet more of the same, forever leveraging their positions and seeking to expand their influence, everybody else is just trying to get through the day. Ironically, Askew seems to be saying, it is the working class, the marginalized and, yes, even the illegal — those peripheral, everyman characters whom Moorehouse and her ilk look upon with such disdain — who ultimately provide the heartbeat not only of Cedar, Okla., but of the nation.
(Jonathan Evison’s most recent novel is “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving.”)
MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE (reviewed by Emily Carter)
Immigration reform has become a common phrase these days, but it seems we can't agree on a common meaning. In the musically named "Kind of Kin," Rilla Askew's second Oklahoma-based novel, one person interprets it as a plan to "rent one of those airforce jets ... and load a bunch of these spics in and fly out over the ocean and open the doors." The speaker is a constituent of state representative Monica Moorehouse, a Palin-esque creation, so ravenously professional that even her private monologues sound public. When a new law she has pushed through the Capitol results in the arrest of Mexican undocumented workers and several Oklahoma citizens, her internal reaction is, "perfect. ... Now the whole world could see that her law had teeth!"
This is a person who thinks in exclamation points, whose hands you can almost hear rubbing together in diabolical glee. If she seems a one-dimensional villain, it's because Askew, whose intelligent and gripping narrative is told from plenty of conflicting viewpoints, wants her to. Being inside her over-bleached head is a macabre, but fascinating experience. By the end of the book, you may not like Monica Moorehouse, or forgive her, but you will understand how she thinks.
This is a novel about the ways people come to decisions and formulate actions, and what they make of the consequences. As with any book based on characters, it's really a mystery.
If there is a protagonist in this portrait of Oklahoma at a strange moment in time, it is Sweet Kirkendall, whose father, Bob Brown, has been arrested for harboring "illegals." Moorehouse's new law has made doing so a felony, and Brown and a local pastor, Jesus Garcia, are using their incarceration to make a public statement, worrying Brown's already overwhelmed daughter.
Sweet is a character familiar to anyone with a family, dysfunctional or otherwise. Decent, competent, but only human, she's not above complaining at the stress and overwork that being the family's go-to person entails. She's not without her own fear of difference, prejudice and judgment, which makes her a believable product of an actual environment. You not only accept her narrative, you root for her to do the right thing -- not just from the desire to see a happy outcome, but because you want to see a basically decent person become a good one, the same desire we have for ourselves.
Askew's strength as a novelist is just this; through an accretion of believable detail and judgment-free descriptions, she creates characters in whose fate you can't help but become invested. You may start this book out as a "relationship" novel, but soon you will realize you are up late because you are, in fact, reading a thriller.
(Emily Carter, author of "Glory Goes and Gets Some," lives in Connecticut.)
THE SEATTLE TIMES (reviewed by Barbara Lloyd McMichael)
As is the case for many of us, the neighborhood I grew up in is no longer the neighborhood that exists today. Its density has changed, and so has its complexion. There’s more traffic and there are more languages. But up and down those streets, inside those homes, the families that live there today, like the families of decades past, still aspire and work and argue and celebrate.
Rilla Askew captures the differences — and the universal sameness — in an affecting new novel, “Kind of Kin.”
This is a modern family portrait that captures in tattered human microcosm the impact that modern immigration trends have had on American society.
Askew lives in Oklahoma, the first state in this century to pass stringent legislation pertaining to illegal immigrants. Although the state law targeted Hispanic communities, it ended up touching more people in more ways than anyone might have imagined.
Askew and her family felt the effects firsthand. Struck by the odd amalgam of unforeseen connections — and rifts — that sprang up among politicians, cops, churchgoers, clergy, undocumented workers, naturalized citizens, businesses and families, she started writing about it.
“Kind of Kin” focuses on a family of small-town Christian Anglos who suddenly find themselves arrayed on opposite sides of the fence — literally and figuratively — with the enactment of Oklahoma’s 2007 anti-illegal immigration law.
The story is told from different points of view.
Ten-year-old Dustin has been living on his maternal grandpa’s farm since the death of his mother some years before. But his grandfather has just been jailed for hiding undocumented workers in his barn.
Dustin goes to stay with his aunt, who is married to a pipeline worker who resents the influx of Spanish-speaking laborers.
Dustin’s older half sister is married to a Mexican who has just been deported. Their U.S.-born toddler speaks only Spanish.
And when Dustin runs away, the man who helps him is a Mexican who is in the United States illegally.
Between these story lines, Askew intersperses the machinations of an Oklahoma state legislator who, ambitious for a political career beyond her dusty legislative district, is trying to get out ahead of the game with legislation that cracks down on illegal immigrants and on those who aid them.
This novel confronts head-on the realities of our era. For the people who reside in these pages, money is always a worry. They live in extended families, shop at Walmart and freeze their credit card in a block of ice. The men work longer hours and the women handle everything else with thrift and multitasking acumen.
“Kind of Kin” is concerned with legal rights and civil rights. It looks at how religion straddles cultural, social and political divides while trying to attend to the needs of an increasingly diverse population.
The book’s least successful story thread has to do with political haymaking. The female legislator is a cartoonish figure with obvious shortcomings. These segments offer comic relief but not much insight into the really difficult issues of immigration, assimilation, national security and funding.
The other characters and story lines are more complicated and more interesting. Askew has created a realistic and compassionate reflection of the people who populate our neighborhoods and our nation today.
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE reviewed by Caroline Leavitt
Cedar, Okla., isn't just a small town. It's a microcosm for the tinderbox issue of illegal immigration in Rilla Askew's raucous, ebullient novel, which gets at the very heart of what it means to be part of the family of man.
Here, immigration has a human, heartbreaking face. Cedar is struggling with a punitive new law that aims not only to "run every Mexican in this state back to Texas" but also to make it a felony to harbor one.
Not only are there suddenly fewer workers around, but the issue hits home when Sweet Georgia Brown's father, Bob, a staunch Christian, is suddenly hauled off to jail with his buddy, pastor Jesus Garcia, for harboring 14 illegal Mexican immigrants in his barn. Sweet's already got her own problems, caring for husband Terry's ailing grandfather (Terry refuses to get home care for him because that would be a government handout), dealing with her bullying young son, and trying to tend to her sensitive 10-year-old nephew Dusty. But when her father refuses bail and won't defend himself, she finds her world rocketing out of control.
The denizens of Cedar quickly begin to take sides as the public issue of immigration becomes more and more personal. Terry rails against the immigrants for "coming here to take people's jobs!" and becomes so nastily vociferous that Sweet begins to wonder if he had something to do with her father's being jailed.
But how can Terry be so one-note on the issue when Sweet's niece, Misty Dawn, has now gone missing with Juanito, an illegal Mexican who defied deportation to sneak back across the border to be with her and their 3-year-old daughter?
Meanwhile, Cedar's sheriff fights for the media limelight, alongside Rep. Monica Moorehouse, the architect of the draconian bill, who sees Bob's arrest as an opportunity to fuel her trajectory to greater public service.
But then Dusty goes missing, and the whole town is put on alert. Dusty has taken off on an incredible odyssey with Luis, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who escaped the roundup and has been hiding in Bob's barn, desperate to find his sons.
The two soon form an almost mystical bond, struggling over the language barrier, and heading west, where Dusty thinks his sister Misty can help them both. As the immigration case morphs into a high-profile kidnapping charge, Sweet begins to realize that it might be up to her to fix things.
Tensions in the town escalate, and as these good people of Cedar make bad decisions, "Kind of Kin" takes on a wider canvas, exploring politics, the media, religion and the family ties that bind as well as garrote.
Askew's characters are both larger than life and deeply, complicatedly human. Sweet, the real moral compass of the story, wrestles with herself as she desperately tries to hold her family together, and questions what is right. Monica is a hilarious dead-on portrait of a power-hungry politician, who is closer to her hairdresser than to her own husband and who worries about being called a racist but will never question the humanity of her motives.
But perhaps some of the novel's most powerful and moving scenes involve Dusty and Luis, who seem to communicate with a kind of telepathy, two damaged souls truly watching out for each other, despite the immense danger to themselves, in a bond so tight that Luis even calls Dusty his son.
"Kind of Kin," in the end, is about how we are all connected and how we might transcend barriers of race and fear. It's a world where even a light from a newscaster by a church has a holy glow, as the townspeople begin to realize that Luis might be an illegal immigrant but that there was more to the story because "he was an alien, all right, but he was somehow their own alien."
Put to the test, the townspeople rally and Askew gallops her story to an astonishing ending, which, like life, is messy and incomplete, and so filmic, you might find yourself casting the characters. Nothing is tied up neatly in a bow, but still, even in the chaos, there's a steadily blinking light of hope.
(Caroline Leavitt’s 10th novel, “Is This Tomorrow,” will be published this May.)
TULSA WORLD (reviewed by Sara Martinez)
Rilla Askew is an Oklahoma author with a heart of gold and a way with a story. Her latest novel places an Oklahoma family at the center of the vortex that was unleashed with the implementation of harsh immigration laws that foreshadowed harsher laws in Arizona and other states.
Robert John Brown, an ornery local farmer who has found religion and a conscience, has been busted for hiding undocumented workers from the chicken processing plant in his barn. This sets off a chain of events that has a profound effect on his family and community.
The narrative is told from the perspective of four characters. Brown's daughter, Sweet Kirkendall, as the embattled matriarch, is the novel's heart and soul. Her 7-year-old nephew, Dustin, tells his side of the story in the voice of a lonely little boy whose is world turned upside down by grown-ups' seemingly senseless actions.
Dustin forms a bond with Luis, one of the workers who eluded capture, overcoming the language barrier in an effort to help Luis reunite with his family while Dustin's falls apart.
Monica Moorehouse's voice provides the legislative context as a carpetbagger state legislator riding the anti-immigrant tide to fame and, she hopes, higher office. She is a woman who is out of touch with the real-life consequences of the legislation and, indeed, ends up losing her best friend over it.
Askew deftly weaves these storylines together to create an engaging read, placing characters in situations that make them and thus the reader question previously held assumptions: How can a Christian break the law? Must Christians break laws that are morally wrong? What constitutes a family?
This is the best tradition of art with a conscience providing no easy answers, and not everyone gets a happy ending. By portraying human beings in an untenable and inhuman situation, Askew forces readers to grapple with the real consequences of harsh legislation.
(Sara Martínez is the Hispanic Resource Center Coordinator with Tulsa City-County Library System.)
KANSAS CITY STAR (reviewed by Liz Cook)
Rilla Askew’s fourth novel, “Kind of Kin,” investigates immigration laws and the communities and families they thrust into conflict.
While Askew’s previous novels (“Fire in Beulah,” “The Mercy Seat”) have explored historical Oklahoma settings and racial conflicts, “Kind of Kin” focuses on the contemporary. When a 2007 Oklahoma law makes it a felony to provide aid to illegal immigrants, Bob Brown, a man of faith and a pillar of the small community of Cedar, is imprisoned for sheltering several undocumented workers in his barn.
His daughter, Georgia “Sweet” Kirkendall, is forced to keep the family together in his absence and to care for her 10-year-old nephew, Dustin, who lived with Bob Brown before his arrest.
Askew wastes no time revealing the stakes of the novel. “Your Grandpa is a felon,” Sweet tells her nephew in the opening lines. “A felon and a Christian. He says he’s a felon because he’s a Christian. Now, what kind of baloney is that?”
Sweet’s skepticism turns to disbelief when she attends her father’s hearing, and he refuses to answer any questions: Bob Brown, it seems, has no intention of leaving custody. As Sweet grapples with her father’s stubbornness, the problems keep piling up: her son, Carl Albert, is turning into a whiner and a bully. Her husband, Terry, may have betrayed the family. And the blustering, fame-seeking sheriff, Alvin Holloway, is turning her father’s case into a national news story.
The novel suffers from a slow start, as Askew sets up the elaborate chain of dominoes that comes crashing down in the book’s second half. But once Sweet gets fed up with everything happening to her, she takes command, and the story takes off. The end result is a novel as ambitious as it is complex: Askew deftly weaves multiple points of view into a narrative that’s spacious, messy and, above all, honest.
The standout sections are those narrated by Sweet and by Monica Moorehouse, a grandstanding state legislator with a meticulously cultivated public persona. Although she lacks the humanity and complexity of some of Askew’s other characters, we get the impression we were never meant to sympathize with her — her persona is too poisonous, her ambition too narrow, as she jeopardizes the only meaningful relationship in her life, a kinship with her gay hairstylist.
While Moorehouse carves away her complexities and social liabilities to fit her public persona, Sweet outgrows hers entirely: with her father in prison, her marriage in shambles and her nephew missing, she stops fighting to keep up appearances and starts fighting for what she hopes is right.
The novel’s climax (what one character glibly refers to as a “Mexican standoff”) is a tight, masterfully drawn scene that raises questions of faith and compassion without grandstanding or veering into faux-inspirational maxims. For Sweet and for the town, there aren’t easy answers.
The novel’s epigraph is a quotation from Hamlet: “A little more than kin, and less than kind.” By the end of the novel, it seems like an indictment of Moorehouse and her ilk. For all her poise and political prowess, she’s unwilling to see her constituents — or even her fellow legislators — as similar, as kin to her.
It’s that self-imposed alienation that Askew takes to task in “Kind of Kin,” and Askew’s lush, nuanced characterization and expert feel for dramatic tension that make this novel soar.
(Liz Cook is a graduate student in creative writing at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.)
From Shelf Awareness:
Oklahoma's best-kept secret is at it again, as Rilla Askew steps out of her usual historical fiction with Kind of Kin, a novel that touches on both the timeless theme of family bonds and the timely theme of illegal immigration regulation.
Bob Brown's arrest shocks the citizens of tiny Cedar, Okla. In Bob's estimation, he's "a felon because he's a Christian." In an exercise in radical discipleship, Bob agreed to hide a handful of frightened illegal Mexican immigrants in his barn, only to find himself betrayed to the law by someone close to him. In his absence, his daughter, Sweet, takes over the care of her orphaned nephew, Dustin, one more worry for her overtaxed nerves. Sweet's already dealing with a tight household budget, her husband Terry's bedridden great-grandpa, Terry's constant out of town trips for his job with the gas company and a son even she admits is turning into a bully. When Dustin runs away, Sweet finds herself in the middle of a media circus involving a rabidly ambitious state representative just as Dustin's older sister comes to her seeking shelter for her husband, an illegal alien who has returned to the U.S. after his deportation to Mexico. The center cannot hold, and Sweet's life spirals out of control--straight into a standoff involving a vicious sheriff and Sweet's pastor and church congregation.
Oklahomans will recognize the Sooner State on a deep level in Kind of Kin; this is much more than a few mentions of Oklahoma City's Penn Square Mall or the Choctaw Nation to set the scene. Vividly authentic, Askew's portrayal of small-town, working-class Oklahoma encompasses its gossipmongering and fear of the unknown without mockery, as well as renders its core values, tenacious spirit and bone-deep sense of hospitality without becoming trite or twee. Rather than make a simple political statement, Askew has crafted an uncannily real cast of characters whose attempts to go about their daily lives and care for their families intersect with issues of church and state, conservative versus liberal politics and the choice between the right way and the easy way. A winner for book clubs, Askew's foray into contemporary fiction is the perfect vehicle to introduce new readers to this talented and under-recognized voice. Her sensitive and humanizing treatment of this hot-button issue is sure to provoke thought and discussion no matter what readers' political leanings may be. --Jaclyn Fulwood
An Oklahoma-centric novel about the “crime” of harboring illegal Mexican workers. Georgia Ann “Sweet” Kirkendall is distressed—her father, Robert John Brown (emphasis on the second two names), has been arrested and charged for the felony crime of “transporting, harboring, concealing, and sheltering undocumented aliens in furtherance of their illegal presence in the state of Oklahoma,” as the legalese goes. Brown doesn’t deny the charge but rather embraces it, for he sees it as part of his Christian duty to help others. Sweet doesn’t quite see it the same way as her father, however, and she has a number of other things to worry about, including her son, Carl Albert, and most especially her nephew Dustin, who’s only 10 but shows considerable empathy toward both his grandfather and the plight of the Mexican workers. In fact, he runs away, causing further worry and grief for his aunt. (His mother had died a few years before.) Brown’s situation is exacerbated since it becomes something of a local cause célèbre when Sheriff Arvin Holloway begins to rail against “criminals” like Brown—Holloway has no sympathy for the justification of “doing one’s Christian duty.’’ State Representative Monica Moorehouse also wants to make political hay, for she’s sponsoring a “get tough on illegal aliens” crime bill and fears her political ambitions might be hurt if sympathy builds for Brown. Askew deftly weaves all this together in a narrative that foregrounds a number of important contemporary issues: religion, immigration, the economy, and the effect of all these on family life.
From Library Journal:
When Oklahoma passes a tough new law making harboring “illegals” a felony, Robert John Brown refuses to defend himself and is sent to prison for hiding a barn full of undocumented migrant workers. Brown’s daughter Sweet is left to manage a family (including a troublesome son and an orphaned nephew) that is coming apart at the seams as her marriage collapses under the stress. VERDICT A Pen/Faulkner Award and Dublin IMPAC Prize nominee, Askew (Strange Business; Harpsong; Fire in Beulah) has written a realistic and powerful narrative that follows the complex motives of Oklahoma’s lawmakers and those citizens who choose to break a law they don’t support. She populates her novel with boldly drawn characters from multiple ethnic and political backgrounds. Sure to appeal to readers of Adriana Trigiani and Barbara Kingsolver. [See Prepub Alert, 7/30/12.]—Mara Dabrishus, Ursuline Coll. Lib., Pepper Pike, OH
Advance praise from booksellers:
"KIND OF KIN is beautiful, funny, politically alive and savvy. Askew does character like no American writer and her nuanced vision of the relationship between the Big Picture and the lives of regular Americans is unrivaled. Everyday folks are often called to make huge decisions that have enormous consequences." –Paul Ingram, Prairie Lights, Iowa City, IA
"The nature of this wonderful novel, set in small town Oklahoma, is like the characters, raucous, messy, uncertain and foolishly brave. Then there's some who are foolishly mean or simply arrogant and self-serving. After a surprise immigration raid on Mexicans that even scoops up some respected citizens everything goes to hell in a hand basket as various folks, from 10 yrs. old to elderly struggle to understand where they stand and how to act. This is a large kind hearted story of less than perfect folks caught in a maelstrom and trying to abide all the while by their ethical or spiritual beliefs. Askew's story is brilliant and a most timely look at who is welcome into our lives and how we express and share compassion even while times are tough and language is a barrier. That she pulls this off in such a lively style, with a deft touch is credit to her skill and art.” --Sheryl Cotleur, Book Passage, Corte Madera, CA
"Askew writes a very compelling family drama that features a very hot subject these days--immigration, illegal and otherwise. Religion, civil rights, extended families, and the economic struggles of blue collar families all come into play in this multi-layered novel of life in Oklahoma." -- Jackie Blem, Tattered Cover Book Store, Denver
"This is a not-to-be-put-down book, a story told by a young boy, Dustin, who is being raised by his Aunt Sweet and her most recent husband Terry, alongside a cousin named Carl Albert, who is the same age and very aggressive in letting his cousin know he is not welcome. The larger picture is the story that takes place in Oklahoma in a fictional small town and the impact of the Mexican migrant workers who come to find a home and work in this locale. With the backdrop of today's headlines of Mexican immigrants being sent back to Mexico or put in jail, the story hits home. The hero is Dustin's Grandpa, who, in the first line of the book is called 'a felon and a Christian.' He is in jail, along with a Mexican preacher, and they remain there throughout the story, to prove their point that while Grandpa harbored Mexican workers in his barn, he has done nothing wrong. His daughter, Auntie Sweet, is the heroine - trying to keep her family together. Dustin aligns himself with Luis, the father of one of the illegal Mexicans who was shipped off - 'somewhere!' - and together, they flee to the mountains and then to the cities in hopes of helping free the beleaguered Mexicans. The complications of family intermarriage and history become issues as well. I cried, and laughed, and then cried again as I read Rilla Askew's story. It ignited feelings of my sympathy towards the Mexican immigrants who are trying to find a safe haven for themselves and their families. My life will never be the same after reading this - its moral conscience tapped the core of my being. It will call to me when I pick up today's paper and read about the injustices that are being incurred by illegal Mexicans in states such as Arizona and Oklahoma." –Roberta Rubin, The Book Stall, Winnetka, IL
"Rilla Askew's KIND OF KIN is a passionate, solid, and fair fictional look at U.S. immigration and the political climate of the last two decades. Askew's characters, whose viewpoints are all over the political map, are well-imagined, thoughtful, and treated with a kindness that is often lacking in the ongoing discussion of this 'hot button' topic. It deserves great applause."-- Emily Russo, Greenlight Bookstore, Brooklyn, NY
“I loved it!!! I really did. I stayed up until 4 in the morning…I couldn't stop thinking about it. That is just one of the magical things about Rilla's writing. One of many. One of the amazing things she does is to show you the worst of us all and yet the best we have to give. The harm of addictions, the shallowness of the media, the cruelty of religion, the hatred of ignorance, etc. However, then there is Sweet. My new hero. I was amazed at how Rilla created her. An ordinary woman stuck with the chores of life, who at the moment it mattered, came through. By the end of the book, I had such faith in Sweet that she would take care of what needed done that I wished I had her phone number and could give her a call. And Dustin. The last line of the book is one of my favorite lines. Once you have experienced turmoil in your life, then the quiet is golden. A brilliant portrait of the world today. I just felt hopeful when I was finished. I loved the woman of the church. I know a few of them too.” --Diane Welsh, Barnes and Noble, Cedar Rapids, IA