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Cherilee Kinman
The Journey to Saraland
The protagonist takes the reader through a paranormal, psychological, esoteric, science fiction, fantasy tale in an antiquated, western setting. It's apocalyptic in nature.
Kinman’s nonlinear debut sympathetically depicts a middle-aged woman’s struggles with bipolar and post-traumatic stress, eventually delving into fantasy and science fiction elements. In 2008, 47-year-old Oklahoman Sara Riggs has good reason to be depressed, anxious, and to question reality. Although from a wealthy cattle and oil and gas family, Sara has made many bad choices during her life. Profoundly affected by the death of her teenage boyfriend Trey 30 years ago, she turned to alcohol, drugs, valium, and casual sex. She picked up men in bars, was beaten by a cowboy, got pregnant, and sought a back alley abortion in another state. One man, Lucas, threatened to kill her unless she married him. When the beast stole her car and killed himself and his lover in a crash, Sara was inexplicably held liable.

With compassion and minimal judgment, Kinman capably explores Sara’s fractious life, coping mechanisms, relations with her adult daughters and precocious seven-year-old daughter, Katie, and tenuous grasp on reality. When Trey’s older brother and Sara’s one-time paramour, Jake, has Alzheimer’s and is put in a nursing home, Sara agrees to contact Jake and take him out for a day trip. Here, Kinman introduces mystical elements that, like any bold choice, will prove divisive to readers: Sara’s troubled mind perceives that Trey possesses Jake’s incapacitated body to give Sara instructions. First, Sara must tell the nurses that Jake in fact has a brain tumor, not Alzheimer’s, and second, Sara must buy a white stallion from Trey’s sister and ride him, until a dark spirit possesses the horse, at which time Trey can part the veil and say goodbye.

The story reveals, with insight and empathy, the damaged Sara’s past. We see how a teenager’s misinterpretation turns rape into love, but also how taking care of the stallion gives her confidence and stability. The focus strays, though, with the fantastic, plus talk of doomsday preppers and other detours. Still, Sara’s story brings to light an emotionally disturbed woman’s sympathetic plight and journey toward healing.

Takeaway: Fantasy-touched story of a mentally ill woman facing an abusive past.

Comparable Titles: Ruth Hogan’s The Keeper of Lost Things, Tommy Butler’s Before You Go.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: C
Marketing copy: B