Reviewed by Sheryl Root
A Crooked Path by
"Annette Smith is a master storyteller. She creates amazingly real characters that you'll love, get mad at, laugh and cry with."
Immigration is often in the news, a hot-button issue that stirs up a wealth of opinion from people on all sides. One of the benefits of well-written fiction is that it can take us beyond our personal opinion … allowing us to see through the eyes of individuals whose stories are the reality behind the headlines. Annette Smith takes us into one such life, that of Manny Ortega, a Mexican immigrant, in A Crooked Path, her latest Eden Plain novel.
Manny grew up in Mexico, living in poverty, but secure in his family's love. Until his twelfth birthday. Woken early in the morning, Manny's father tells him he is now a man, old enough to travel to the city with him to find work. Manny is both excited and apprehensive. But he has no idea how much his life is really going to change. Manny's father abandons him at the bus stop, a day and a half's walk from their home. He tells Manny to go back to his mother and let her know he will never be returning. Now, as the oldest son, Manny is the man of the family, left to take on the responsibility of providing for his mother and siblings. As soon as he is old enough, Manny makes the journey from Mexico to Texas in order to provide a better life for his family. After years of working from job to job, sometimes treated fairly, sometimes taken advantage of; Manny obtains his green card and settles down in Eden Plain, Texas.
A temporary job with rancher Owen Green leads to a full-time position as his ranch manager. While Owen is a man with many prejudices, he treats Manny fairly, and Manny comes to care a great deal about the elderly man. As Owen's health declines, Manny moves into the position of his personal caregiver, one of the few people the cantankerous old man will trust. When Owen's daughter Chaney comes for a visit, the friendship that begins between she and Manny turns into something deeper. As Owen's prejudices erupt and his stubbornness leads to tragedy, it is only God that can bring healing and reconciliation in the midst of their pain.
Reading A Crooked Path so soon after I finished Justice in the Burbs by Will and Lisa Samson made me especially sensitive to the issues of prejudice and class that Annette explores. A conversation between Chaney and Manny ripped a veil from my eyes that I never even knew existed. As Chaney shares with Manny that she feels, at almost 40, she is still figuring out what she is supposed to do with her life … who she is supposed to be. She asks Manny if he has ever felt the same way.
“I told her the truth. I have not ever wondered about these things. I have never had the luxury. It is not that I have no questions about life … (b)ut as for where I am going or what I am to do? I have known the answer to these questions since that day when I was twelve. … I have lived in poverty. I have witnessed the fear in my mother’s eyes and hunger in the faces of my brother and my sisters. I have had no place to live, and I have walked in shoes with cardboard for soles. … My purpose in life, my reason for getting up each day, is simple. I rise from my bed in the morning to work. When I lay my head down at night, the last prayer that I pray is one of thanks to God for the good job that I have. Food. Clothing. A safe place for me and my family. When a person obtains these things after living without them, he knows what life is about.”
Growing up in a middle-class home, I have never been in want, but neither have I considered myself "rich." Until I read this. Just having the opportunity to contemplate the direction of my life makes me richer than a majority of the world's citizens. It’s a luxury I have because I am not wondering where my next meal is coming from, or where I will sleep tonight, or where I will work tomorrow.
Annette Smith is a master storyteller. She creates amazingly real characters that you'll love, get mad at, laugh and cry with. Reading her books will entertain you, but they will also make you see life, and people, in ways you might never have before.
Sheryl Root is Partner Database Manager at OneHope, a non-profit organization whose mission is to reach every child with God’s Word. She’s also a writer and a reader of everything she can get her hands on … books, blogs, magazines. In other words, she’s both a data geek and a book nerd. She loves to be able to support Christian authors and spread the word on great books and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, a wonderful community of published and yet to be published writers. You can follow her on Twitter at @Sheryl_Root.