Book Review

The Removed

The Removed

  • Author: Brandon Hobson
  • Genre: Contemporary
  • Publication Date: February 2, 2021
  • Publisher: Ecco

Thank you to NetGalley for giving me an ARC of this book. I am providing my honest opinion voluntarily.

CONTENT WARNING: death of a child, police shooting, dementia, grief, addiction, harm to animals, suicide, mention of mental illness (depression, anxiety, panic attacks), racism, violence, forced confinement 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

In the fifteen years since their teenage son, Ray-Ray, was killed in a police shooting, the Echota family has been suspended in private grief. The mother, Maria, increasingly struggles to manage the onset of Alzheimer’s in her husband, Ernest. Their adult daughter, Sonja, leads a life of solitude, punctuated only by spells of dizzying romantic obsession. And their son, Edgar, fled home long ago, turning to drugs to mute his feelings of alienation.

With the family’s annual bonfire approaching—an occasion marking both the Cherokee National Holiday and Ray-Ray’s death, and a rare moment in which they openly talk about his memory—Maria attempts to call the family together from their physical and emotional distances once more. But as the bonfire draws near, each of them feels a strange blurring of the boundary between normal life and the spirit world. Maria and Ernest take in a foster child who seems to almost miraculously keep Ernest’s mental fog at bay. Sonja becomes dangerously fixated on a man named Vin, despite—or perhaps because of—his ties to tragedy in her lifetime and lifetimes before. And in the wake of a suicide attempt, Edgar finds himself in the mysterious Darkening Land: a place between the living and the dead, where old atrocities echo.

Drawing deeply on Cherokee folklore, The Removed seamlessly blends the real and spiritual to excavate the deep reverberations of trauma—a meditation on family, grief, home, and the power of stories on both a personal and ancestral level.

I’m honestly not sure how to rate this book. I loved the premise of the story, but it just didn’t seem to carry over from concept to actuality. However, there were some parts of the book that were great. The way that the story addressed the effects of intergenerational trauma and incorporated it as a running theme throughout the book was done really well.

I’m not familiar with Indigenous history (beyond the basics) or culture, and have only recently started reading some literature written by Indigenous authors. I loved seeing Cherokee history and mythology incorporated into the story, although it didn’t always feel as though these were integrated seamlessly into the rest of the story.

While the story begins with a relevant and incredibly timely event, the unwarranted shooting of a young Cherokee boy by a racist cop, this seemed more for shock value, and played such a small role in the plot. Ray-Ray’s cause of death played such a small role in the story, and when it ultimately did pop up later in the book, it led to two ultimately unfulfilling confrontations. 

The entire story just felt underdeveloped and unresolved. There was a sense that so much more could have come out of this book, but it just never made the leap. The characters had potential, but wound up being bland. Sonja could have been quite an intriguing character, but fell into an obsessive romantic fantasy with underpinnings of … other, which wound up having a completely unrewarding outcome for both Sonja and me, as the reader. Edgar’s chapters just ramble incessantly at the beginning, with a strange fixation on the word “fowl,” for some reason. His trip into the Darkening Land wasn’t ever really fully explained, and it took a strange detour into magical realism with dark undertones that made less and less sense as the book went on. Maria’s chapters made the most sense to me, but even those felt like there should have been more.

I felt the most connection to Maria, but overall, the book left me wondering about what actually happened. I devoured the book hoping for a sense of closure, but in the end, it wound up feeling … unfinished to me. I wasn’t expecting the book to have such overtones of magical realism, which isn’t a genre that I generally enjoy. So this could have contributed to my confusion about this book, but I’m still feeling confused and torn about this one. I think the idea was great, but it just didn’t really come through for me personally.

3 replies »

  1. Oh no, what a bummer! My interest was piqued at your mention of indigenous history and the inclusion of Cherokee history and mythology, but it sounds like the overall execution of the book was lacking. It’s so hard to feel invested when not just the plot falls short but the characters feel flat. Great honest review though, Leah 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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