Review: The Given World by Marian Palaia

I received a review copy of this title from Simon and Schuster through NetGalley.

My Review:
Given WorldRiley is a sad, lost, melancholy soul who has commitment issues and is not really even sure if she is capable of loving anyone.   When she is nine, her beloved older brother, Mick, goes off to fight in Vietnam where goes MIA.  The fact that her brother died is difficult enough for her to deal with, but not knowing how he dies or where he is buried compounds her grief.  When Riley is in high school she has a boyfriend named Darrell who also goes off to the war.  It is this second loss of a male in her life that really seems to push Riley over the edge.

Riley leaves Montana and takes off for the Ocean, which she longs to see and be near.  She ends up in San Francisco where her life is a tumultuous string of jobs, friends, drugs and dwellings.  She seems to be running from something, but she doesn’t know from what, and she seems to be looking for something, but she doesn’t know what that something is either.

Since it is  the Vietnam War that has so altered Riley’s life, she decides to leave San Francisco and live in Saigon for nine months.  I thought that from the descriptions of the book Riley was going to actively look for her brother there to figure out what happened to him.  But her life in Vietnam is much the same as it was in San Francisco with binge drinking, sleeping with random men and living recklessly.  I did not find this part of the book particularly interesting, although I suppose it was the author’s attempt at trying to portray the fact that Riley is running farther and farther away from her life and her problems.

In the end, an illness brings Riley back to Montana and she learns she really should not have pushed away her parents who, in dealing with their own grief over their lost son,  could have helped her get over her own.  Riley keeps saying that she wanted to leave her small town in Montana and not be trapped, when all along it is the one true place where she is accepted and loved unconditionally.   THE GIVEN WORLD is an sad coming-of-age story in which the main character learns that instead of running away, she should have dealt with the world as it was given to her.

About The Author:
Marian PalaiaMarian Palaia lives in San Francisco, California, and sometimes, when it is not winter, in Missoula, Montana. She is a graduate of the MFA program at Madison, Wisconsin, where she received the 2012 Milofsky Prize, and of the MA program in Creative Writing at San Francisco State University. She was a 2012-2013 John Steinbeck Fellow at San Jose State University and a 2014 recipient of a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation. Her work has been published most recently in The Virginia Quarterly review (; TriQuarterly (; and Joyland ( Two of these stories are also chapters in her forthcoming (April 14, 2015 from Simon and Schuster) novel The Given World.



1 Comment

Filed under Historical Fiction

One response to “Review: The Given World by Marian Palaia

  1. You describe with sensitivity this character’s difficult response to her grief and her long road of coping with it. It sounds like it portrays another facet of the legacy of the Vietnam War era for families.


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