Title/Author: Long Bright Rivery by Liz Moore
Publisher: Riverhead Books
In a nutshell:
Two sisters travel the same streets, though their lives couldn’t be more different. Then one of them goes missing.
In a Philadelphia neighborhood rocked by the opioid crisis, two once-inseparable sisters find themselves at odds. One, Kacey, lives on the streets in the vise of addiction. The other, Mickey, walks those same blocks on her police beat. They don’t speak anymore, but Mickey never stops worrying about her sibling.
Then Kacey disappears, suddenly, at the same time that a mysterious string of murders begins in Mickey’s district, and Mickey becomes dangerously obsessed with finding the culprit–and her sister–before it’s too late.
Alternating its present-day mystery with the story of the sisters’ childhood and adolescence, Long Bright River is at once heart-pounding and heart-wrenching: a gripping suspense novel that is also a moving story of sisters, addiction, and the formidable ties that persist between place, family, and fate.
My verdict: A raw, real and heart-wrenching story, with characters that’ll stay with me for a while.
I’ve never heard of Kensington in Northeast Philadelphia until now. I’ve never known of the severity of their opioid epidemic until now. Thank you, Moore, for writing this.
Raised by their grandmother, Gee, Michaela (Mickey) and Kacey Fitzpatrick were taught and had experienced from the beginning, the hardships of life, without their parents, and with neither guidance nor anyone they could look up to. Hence, they only had each other and were as thick as thieves throughout their childhood, but went their separate ways as they grew older, and eventually became estranged.
Mickey, now a single mom, became a police officer while Kacey, a drug addict just like their parents. At the time when a stream of dead bodies were reported and found, Kacey went missing. This worried Micky fearing one day it might be Kacey’s body. She went on a desperate search for her sister, even when it went against some police protocol. Will she risk her son, Thomas’s life? Will she ever able to find Kacey and make amends?
This book reminded me of one of my favorite TV crime shows, ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’, just the extended, much longer version, one with a more complex drama of a dysfunctional family.
I was, in the beginning, very divided about this book, because I was expecting a thriller, one that’s usually fast paced, and this was going so s…l…o…w…. 30% into the book, still nothing big happened, and it was still about the Mickey reminiscing her childhood with her sister while searching for her. I almost gave up. But, the people and town of Kensington kept pulling me back in and the fact that Micky hadn’t found her sister made me want to go on.
My perseverance paid off because 50% into the book, as the missing sister mystery began to unravel, the story offered lots of twists that kept me turning the pages. But by then, I was already invested in Kensington and the people there.
The author’s involvement in community work in Kensington and her ‘own family’s multi-generational struggle with addiction,’ helped made her characters feel so real, almost autobiographical. She showed us their flaws, fears, helplessness, selfishness, fragility – all so relatable. Her story was also inspired by pictures taken by a photographer. Check out some of his pictures here.
Mickey was such a well-developed character. She saw herself as righteous, believed in justice and order, pride herself in her strong moral beliefs, and saw everything as either black or white, which of course, didn’t serve her well living in a place like Kensington, where most people weren’t always what they seemed. Sometimes I get to annoyed by the decisions she made or the actions she took, or even her perception of people around her. I can see why she wasn’t a family favorite.
Then we have Kacey – Mickey’s total opposite, Mickey’s protector during her teenage years when Micky was seen as awkward and too serious. Kacey, well-known for her infectious laugh, was always ready to have fun and popular among friends. But that came with a cost too, one that sent her spiraling down a deep hole.
I love Mrs. Mahon, Mickey’s neighbor whom Micky always approached with apprehension. But she was the beacon of hope in the book. She softened the edges of Mickey’s life, although many times, Mickey doubted Mrs. Mahon’s kindness. She seemed to always trust the wrong people.
The author also painted a very vivid image of Kensington, where dilapidated, crammed, makeshift houses, the abandos, and empty lots made up its landscape, with a ‘mix of people seeking a fix and people in the aftermath of one’, a little town where ‘THA WHOLE NTHEAST IS FULLA FUKN JUNKIES’, broiled in police corruption, and the cycle never ends.
I can’t imagine being Thomas, a kid living in a place surrounded by pain and suffering and injustice. I wonder what will Mickey tell him when he’s old enough to understand that ‘The world is hard place’ , that life can be bitter. It can be harsh and cruel. How can you make a child see hope, love and trust, and tell them that they can be someone’s hope and love, living in a place like that?
This was a difficult, challenging and uncomfortable read for reasons stated above. But the book also offered hope, hope that there’ll be survivors, fighters and community helpers who will put the cycle to an end. People like Truman, Mrs. Mahon and Paula, whose friendship and loyalty helped Mickey and Kacey through their tough times. Police officers like Mickey and Truman who served the community like they were their family, and people like Mr Wright and Alonzo, who looked out for the community and asked for nothing in return. What would stay with me too, was how much Mickey loved her sister, that she was willing to risk it all to find her. And Gee, Gee showed some tough love.
I’ve never read a thriller quite like this before, because it didn’t really feel like one. It felt more like a side than a main entree. And it affected me very differently than others. It didn’t have a ‘happy’ or ‘satisfying’ ending, but a hopeful one.
This book takes a hard look on love and loss, about addiction and healing, about those who have lost and found themselves again. If you aren’t afraid of a book that lay out the reality of survival and life, this book’s for you.Tweet
Have you read this book? What did you think? If you haven’t, do you intend to? Or have you read other books by this author? Please share with me your thoughts!
Till then, Happy Reading and STAY SAFE! Wash those hands 🙂