Peace Like a River is the story of eleven year-old Reuben Land, his western-poetry-writing sister, Swede, his miracle-performing father, Jeremiah, and his older brother, Davy. Davy shoots and kills two teenage boys who invade their home. When Davy breaks out of jail and goes on the run, the rest of the family decide to go west in search of him, trusting in the father's close relationship with God to lead them to their outlaw brother/son.
I admit to having waited too long to write this, as I finished the book some time ago (this is a problem with me, as I immediately request a book from the library, so I'll definitely have it, then I've read it too early...) Anyway, I'll try my best, but I apologize now for this haphazard "review." I hope to do better on the next book.
First off, I love that the father is the care-taker of the children. My father was my and my brother's primary parent, and with all the deadbeat dad stuff, it's good to read about a man like Jeremiah. Of course, Jeremiah does some amazing stuff. Reading the book, I wondered if some of the miracles were figments of Reuben's imagination, but at least one I can think of could not have been. I did think it was funny that Reuben and Swede thought that the police somehow missed seeing their car and that was a miracle. I just thought maybe the police were going to give the Lands a hard time, that it was more of a warning to them that "you can run, but you can't hide."
One of the big questions of this book is whether or not Davy was a "bad guy." I am not sure of my opinion. In some ways, I don't blame him for shooting at least one of the guys, if he really woke up and heard them in his home. However, if he really knew they would be coming to retaliate for something he had done earlier, it does seem wrong. (I wasn't sure if he'd really done some of the things that the relatives of the guys he shot accused him of). Well, sort of wrong. I do feel that if someone breaks in your home, you have a right to defend yourself and your family to the fullest extent possible. Also, the time period of the book (early 1960s per amazon.com) may affect one's opinion of Davy's hero versus villain status.
I really enjoyed Swede's poetry, and how the events taking place in her life played out in her writing. The characterization of both Reuben and Swede seemed right-on to me. Reuben's need to prove himself against his asthma, his frustrations with Swede's poems - it all seemed just what an eleven year-old boy would think and feel. I also really enjoyed the allusion to the biblical story of the prodigal son, and the way this book questioned how to treat a wayward child.
The settings in the book play a role in the action: the Badlands (are there really cracks filled with "fire" there?) and the farm where they eventually settle. Even the settings in Swede's poems reveal the characters' desires i.e., the valley where they dynamite the only entrance/exit closed and live happily ever after.
The book questions what is wrong, what is evil? are there levels of badness? But, it also focuses on love and giving. There is no doubt that Jeremiah would give anything to help his children and his love is boundless. Despite his actions which separate him from his family, Reuben, Swede, and their father all love Davy.
One of my favorite quotes from this book (and there were several) is "Fair is whatever God wants to do."
If you don't want to know what happens, stop reading now!
I just had to say that halfway through, I felt sure Davy would not make it to the end of the book alive. So, I was very surprised with how things ended and who Sara ended up marrying! Also, I loved the description of the outskirts of heaven! Everyone running to get there! Looking forward to reading others thoughts on Peace Like a River.