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Reviewed by Asher Syed for Readers' Favorite
The Highway and The River: One Girl’s Journey out of Evangelicalism into Faith by Darlice Dockter is a sweeping coming-of-age historical novel that follows the life of its protagonist Elizabeth “Bisy” Abigail Stockton. The book begins with backstory into Bisy's family and birth, the history of land and surroundings the growing Stocktons inhabited, and an upbringing that was fully ensconced in her father's Mobridge Evangelical Church. Between the realities of home and the almost militant Christianity in her daily life, Bisy is still, occasionally, prone to reflect on the inequities of life and the religious points of view she has been groomed for. Her life progresses through the seasons and interactions vary from the mundane to the outlandish, such as a four-day sweat lodge retreat on an Indian reservation and a lavish trip to Las Vegas at a time when the circus was considered top-class. Bisy is a "good girl" who does what she has been told and accepts what she has been taught is her fate, but the universe has a way of opening the eyes of those who are lost and when Bisy is in the depths of her darkest moments, the light of genuine faith sees her through.
The Highway and The River offers insight into the life of a young girl who grows up into womanhood ill-prepared for life, despite her father believing that she would be secure in the fortress of morality he built around her. The reality that Darlice Dockter shows readers through Bisy is that she has been emotionally and physically beaten down by men who only see her as an extension of themselves. Bisy's mother is probably the most complex character in the novel and I actually quite liked the ambiguity that Docker shades her with that leaves us to wonder where her beliefs lie whenever conflict arises. The hot and cold temperament she shows her daughter increases after Bisy gets married to Jack, a man who says things to her like, “Can you even imagine where you would be today if it weren’t for me?” The writing is simple and readers who prefer substance over style will appreciate the straightforward narrative. Overall, this is a large-scale epic with enough incremental moments that please to balance it out and make it enjoyable.