Review | The Removed
Author: Brandon Hobson
Trigger Warning - Child Endangerment, Confrontation Rapist/Abuser, Drug Addiction, Physical Abuse, Police Brutality, Racial Profiling, Racial Slurs, Racism, Trauma, Use of the Word 'Savage'
Disclaimer – This book was read in the ARC* form. There may be some differences in this version than from what appears in other copies.
Publication: February 2021
Immediately after the tragic loss of a loved one, life can be tragic. But what happens to the family members years later? The Echota family is still suffering from the killing of Ray-Ray fifteen years prior. The mother, Maria, and two remaining children, Sonja and Edgar, each dictate the changes that came to their lives after his death. This story shares the unique grief when the pain is caused at the hands of a police officer and when that person is still a child.
In-Depth Review (contains spoilers)
I found the story somewhat difficult to follow. It appeared as if Hobson had many different directions he wanted to write about and couldn't narrow it down. I would have been happy with a focus entirely on Maria, Ernest and Wyatt. I really enjoyed their interactions and felt like there should have been a much longer timeframe for their relationship to grow that was crammed into the week. It also seemed to be a fairly quick turnover for Ernest to completely "recover" from Alzheimer's. If, perhaps, the entire focus was on them, then there would have been more time for him to develop a better handling of it. But a week just seemed way to quick.
I always find it fascinating to read about another culture besides my own. Learning of traditions and particular histories. In this piece, the Trail of Tears holds so much significance. The future of their entire people was changed during that event. Tsala states that he saw it coming but even that didn't stop it from happening. This shows that everyone is at the mercy of others. As Ray-Ray was to the police officer. Unfortunately, there was little deliberation on what happened to him. For this entire story to be built around that one event, they did not think about it all that much. I wanted to see them being told what happened. I wanted to see their grief. Then I wanted to see the investigation and how that interrupted their time to grieve. Eventually, I wanted the anger and disappointment after the policeman got away unpunished. If their lives were so drastically effected, even fifteen years later, they would have thought more about the details and not just the thought of Ray-Ray being gone.
Sonja was an unhealthy character. She was obsessive without reason for a majority of the story and then unnerving towards Luka. I had sympathy for her when Vic attacked, but then it was gone when she made the sudden reveal. There was nothing really leading up to us learning that Vic's father, a policeman, was the one who killed Ray-Ray. Yes, there were brief mentions of Vic's father, but overall I felt like a live grenade was suddenly dropped in front of me when I read that. Not a good reaction. As Vic stated, he was too young, he had no part to play in Ray-Ray's killing. And so Sonja' obsession was just made even stranger.
Edgar, also had his own set of problems. I believe that he would have had a drug problem whether or not Ray-Ray had died. He was too young and his brother's death would not have had that sort of impact on him. Edgar just constantly made bad decisions. Like agreeing to go with Jackson to the Darkening Land. That situation was completely messed up. A whole town full of people just waiting to die due to air pollution and yet they don't leave. It doesn't make any sense. Plus, Jackson gave off so many warning signs until the obvious was thrown in his face. I could not stand him for being so stupid and honestly couldn't care what happened to him during the rest of his story.
The ending is up for debate. I will simply say that this is a story that is all about interpretation. You can take many different things that happened in this story many different kinds of ways. It all depends on how you read it. Edgar could have died and met Tsala as he was passing from this world, or he was delusional and ended up going to the bonfire to repair his family relationship. Personally, I decided to believe in the former. After such a dense read, I wanted this family to have some happiness.
There may or may not have been some deeper meaning that was supposed to be shared throughout this piece. I did not pick up on it and I could not even begin to guess of what it was supposed to be. I really believe this story needs some more work done to clarify what the intentional point is meant to be. As a reader, I don't really see a point to this story other than to convey how messed up a family can become after the loss of a loved one. And even that point is a stretch.
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*ARC, or Advance Reading Copy, is a pre-published, nearly complete version of a new book that is given out before the official release date. The aim is to gain reviews that can coincide with the launching and to get booksellers interested in selling the book. It is normal for there to be changes from the ARC to the actual published copy since this form is an uncorrected proof.