Book Review: White Buffalo Gold

White Buffalo Gold is a book I had the pleasure of reading as part of the process for my good friend, Adam Fleming, to pursue publishing.  (Check out his Kickstarter project!)  White Buffalo Gold follows the lives of three girls as they come of age in a rural town.  Amy, Emily, and Melissa share a long history together.  Through the novel you see that history laid out through several decades.  You see how complex friendship can be, and the many faces people may wear as friends, but Adam dares to go deeper.  You see those three girl’s lives intertwined with other souls in the town and you see the interweaving of those souls as well.  Some people seem like the stereotypical “decent folks”. Other people betray the complexity of life through their actions, both good and bad.  Adam writes about how easy mistakes can be and how the repercussions can last throughout a lifetime.  Yet what resonates is not that there are “good” and “bad” people, but that we are more than the sum of what we do.

What I love the most about this novel is it’s honesty.  It never feels contrived, even when the spirit of a white buffalo starts haunting someone.  The characters all play out as very genuine, and the greater themes of small town identity, regret, aging, death, and starting over all get a fair shake.  You’ve got small town Nebraska, a gold rush mystery, and Native American spirituality all weaving into a coming of age story about the choices that make us leave and the choices that keep us close.  When I finished reading the novel I felt as if I’d just had tea with old friends and neighbors I hadn’t seen in a while, and I was so glad to have caught up on their lives.

If you like contemporary fiction that harks back to some of the great American narrative traditions, then this book is one you’ll enjoy reading.  It’s got small towns, rural America, big potential and simple dreams: all the Americana with none of the pretense or cloying sweetness that can make the genre turn sour.  I’m so proud and privileged to be a part of seeing it put into print.

***This review is not paid or coerced in any manner.  I volunteered it because I believe in Adam’s project.

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Family

“Blood is thicker than water”, the saying goes. I’m not sure exactly what it means- but I do know one thing. It’s only true as long as one decides it ought to be true. Familial devotion doesn’t always exist. Family can be as cruel as it can be kind- more cruel, because a girl wants her family to be devoted. She wants to be loved and cherished. She wants everyone else to try as hard as she does to make things keep working.

Sometimes she gets disappointed. I’m not saying this for myself so much as for two gleaming examples of who a girl should be, Amber and SanityFound, who have both recently written posts about being let down by the family we’re born to. But here’s the good news: everyone has two families! We have the family we’re born with and the family we choose. Sometimes we choose our birth families as those who we most love and devote ourselves too. But more often we choose instead our friends, our work family, or our church family as the people we turn to when the chips are down or invite to celebrate when all is well.

I think God gives us the family we’re born to in order to teach us. We’re not always like them. More often we have little in common, and sometimes we find that we don’t even get along. From our birth family we learn that love is not always instinctive. We learn how to make sacrifices to keep the peace. We learn how to cherish someone even when we don’t want to be around them. And all of those things are good lessons, but they don’t lessen the heartache of the moments when you want a hand to hold and all you get is voicemail. Those are the moments that God gives us our chosen families for. They are the ones that teach us about friendship and devotion, about the value of late-night phone calls and the pure pleasure that comes from knowing that we are enjoyed, we are wanted, we are chosen to be loved.

Both families are important, both lessons are needed. But we mustn’t confuse one with the other. One is love that is unconditional, unasked for, given because it is the right thing to do. The other is also love that is unconditional, but it is love that is asked for and given in equal parts, given for the simple pleasure of knowing it is there.

I thank God for the family I was born to, and I am humbled by the one that has chosen me.

Family: It’s a good thing, even when it makes us crazy. (Which, to be honest, seems to be most of the time.)