Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Given World” as Want to Read:
The Given World
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Given World

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  579 ratings  ·  137 reviews
Spanning over twenty-five years of a radically shifting cultural landscape, The Given World is a major debut novel about war’s effects on those left behind, by an author who is “strong, soulful, and deeply gifted” (Lorrie Moore, New York Times bestselling author of Birds of America).

In 1968, when Riley is thirteen, her brother Mick goes missing in Vietnam. Her family shatt
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published April 14th 2015 by Simon & Schuster
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Given World, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Given World

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.59  · 
Rating details
 ·  579 ratings  ·  137 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Given World
Diane S ☔
Nov 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
In this raw and unflinchingly honest novel, Palala writes a novel about a family severely impacted by the Vietnam War. Riley in thirteen when her beloved older brother Mick goes missing in the tunnels of Vietnam. Unfortunately just when she needs her the most, her mother is bowled over with grief, and unable to meet Riley's needs. This will set Riley off on a journey to try to find the place she belongs, going to San Francisco and Vietnam and finally 25 years later she will return home.

I loved R
Heidi The Reader
Sep 22, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction, book-club
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Elyse  Walters
Nov 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
Much has been written about the Viet Nam era. I lived through the era myself during my teens and early twenties.
This is not an anti-war movement story,
Or about the killings of the young,
Or Kent State University....
It 'is' an intimate story about one girls coming of age when her older brother is MIA, and the choices she makes from grief, suffering, loss, and love. The storytelling is page-turning engrossing ---(especially her friendships in San Francisco).

Marian Palaia captures the spirit of th
Angela M
Oct 28, 2014 rated it really liked it

3.5 *’s.

This is about the war in Vietnam but we aren't there for the war only the aftermath and its effect on a family left behind. There is such a feeling sadness and loss in this book as Riley 's brother Mick goes missing in Vietnam and Denell the father of her baby leaves for the army before he knows she's
pregnant . Rose , her mother can hardly hold herself together but yet Riley leaves the baby with her , while she tries to find her way . But Rose , too is lost .

Riley roams from Montana to
Larry H
Nov 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
I'd rate this 4.5 stars.

Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

Growing up in rural Montana, Riley worshiped her older brother, Mick. Part guardian angel, part partner-in-crime, Mick taught her about the world around her. But when Mick goes missing in action in Vietnam, the loss is more than Riley or her parents can take, and she spends the next few years in a haze of wild behavior and drugs. She meets and falls in love with Darr
Dec 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
Sometimes a 4-star rating is what it is, a pretty good book. And sometimes it's a bit of math -- a quasar pulsing somewhere between Star 3 and Star 5. Meaning: I could easily give this 5-stars if I rated it on voice and writing alone. Marian Palaia's novel brings a young, Vietnam-era girl to life with beautiful language and a memorable personality, following young Riley from days on a Montana farm worshiping her older brother, Mick, to the distant worlds of San Francisco and Vietnam itself, wher ...more
Gantt Kushner
Mar 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I've read a lot of Stephen King, just finished a couple recently. Here's what reading a Stephen King book is like for me - I walk up to the book's door and knock. The door opens and a hand reaches out, grabs me by the scruff of the neck and pulls me into his world, drags me through, almost against my will sometimes, until, finally, the story is over and I get booted out the door, back into my own life, thinking "Wow! That was intense!".

"The Given World" is more like this - I knock on the door a
Jun 15, 2015 rated it liked it
Probably 3.5 but some plot developments at the end really bothered me. So much to like in this story of lost souls. I especially loved the broken, and broken-hearted, Riley. Hope to post more thought when I'm not on mobile.
Sep 15, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: women-writers
This was so repetitive and depressing... Minor / episodic characters pass in and out of the narrative seemingly for no reason and it's hard to keep track of them or get invested in them when you know they will vanish by the beginning of the next chapter. Really interesting characters like Darrell are written out of the main plotline. Nothing really happens? The main character is pretty stereotypical and bland, she is a self-described "broken" woman so of course that means she actively & delibera ...more
Sep 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Almost 4 star, almost. I adored the first part of the book where Riley lives in Montana, idolizes her big brother, and eventually meets a kindred spirit with whom she forms a relationship. Most little sisters will relate to Palaia’s balanced presentation of the importance you attach and love you feel for your big brother(s). And, then he goes off to war. The gaping hole left behind can’t be filled. There’s not enough sex, drugs and rock n roll in the whole wide world. After Riley heads west the ...more
Mar 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book stunned me. I rarely read fiction, and when I do, I want it to be good. This was good, and much much more. It felt like a gift written by a person rooted in the American West with a careful eye and a loving heart in spite of hundreds of splinters, breaks, wounds, and scars. Marian Palaia is a gifted writer and this is a story worth reading. The novel's main character, Riley, is a wounded human being whom I loved very much, and the several characters she orbits and collides with are eac ...more
Aug 11, 2015 rated it did not like it
This should be the sort of book I love...but I didn't. I didn't even like it.

I think mostly I was bored. I didn't like the characters very much, didn't care for the writing, got tired of the lost, wandering girl story line, nothing ever happened..which normally I might be ok with if the writing was compelling enough.

Just wasn't for me, I guess.
Donna Davis
Three and a half stars, rounded up. Thank you thrice to Net Galley, Edelweiss Books, and Simon and Schuster for the ARC. This novel, which has generated a fair amount of buzz, comes out in spring of 2015.

The story takes place about fifty years ago in the western USA. Riley’s brother has been sent to fight in Vietnam, and Riley has gone to pieces without him. She takes every drug known to humanity, or nearly so, including alcohol, and in liberal doses, too. When her lover goes to Vietnam too, she
Apr 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book is powerful. The quality of the writing blew me away. The story slowly evolves. It seeps into you.
It opens in Vietnam with the protagonist, Riley, searching for her brother, Mick, or for his remains from the war. The book then unfolds in Montana, Mick is a talented artist and naturalist and Riley is a little tomboy in awe of her older brother. Mick goes to Vietnam in the 25th Infantry as a tunnel guy and doesn't return. Riley grows up, falls in love with a Native American, Darrell, wh
Nicole Overmoyer
Nov 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I've never read a novel built on the civilian cost of the Vietnam War. I haven't read much about the Vietnam War. And Marian Palaia's THE GIVEN WORLD isn't about the Vietnam War so much as it is about how a war that seems so focused in a single corner of the world can have a ripple effect on the wider world that never really stops.

THE GIVEN WORLD centers on Riley. Riley is in her most formative, not quite an adult and no longer a child, years when her brother Mick goes missing in the tunnels of
Bonnie Brody
Jan 03, 2015 rated it it was ok
This novel's protagonist, Riley, is a broken woman whose brother Mick is MIA in Vietnam. A tunnel diver, his remains or any knowledge of his whereabouts are unknown. This story is interspersed with chapters that show how Riley tries to deal with Mick's loss after leaving her home in Montana - her travels to San Francisco and Vietnam most specifically.

Riley has a penchant for broken people like herself. The more broken they are, the more she appears to be attracted to them. When she first gets to
Aug 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc, fiction
The Given World is a beautiful book. From the first page, I was wholly engaged, and I couldn't put it down--which is somewhat odd considering how sullen it is. There is SO much sorrow here. Page after page of it. Some of that sadness is self-imposed by the characters, and some of it is just the stuff life is made of.

The main character, Riley, is very loveable--also lost and melancholy and deeply sad--but, yes, so earnest and endearing. She cares very genuinely, so even when she messes up and mak
Octavio Solis
Nov 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The beauty of loneliness given words.
The heartbreak that comes from losing someone who felt so necessary to one's life.
The long search for one's own heart. For real human feeling.
It's all here in Marian Palaia's stunning debut novel. Taking place in the sad years before, during and after the Vietnam War, and traversing the terrains of Montana and California's coast and San Francisco and even Ho Chi Minh City, the story follows Riley as she launches herself into the long hunt for her brother w
Emily Crowe
Jan 24, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: ebook, 2015, fec-reading
Alas, this was not the book for me. If you think you would enjoy the literary love child of Rachel Kushner and Lena Dunham, it just might be the book for you.

There were moments when I was caught up in the magic, but they were early on. I rather felt about most of this book the way I did about most of the Las Vegas sections of The Goldfinch, but this book lacked Donna Tartt's superb craft of writing to make me care.

Want another opinion? Read the excellently written and very positive review from
Apr 08, 2015 rated it it was ok
This book really did not grab me. The main character is a hot mess. Although she is interesting and complex, she's lost and not really able to tell her own story. This is balanced out a little bit by some alternating chapters that are told from the perspective of other characters who are trying to explain how they see the protagonist, but the author gives up using this narrative method about half way through. The subject was interesting but it didn't feel like it really went anywhere.

This honest
Feb 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautiful book about the last 1/4 of the 20th century. You can tell Ms. Palaia has a great mind, and her voice projects the reality of the events, the times and the changes that occurred. A great read!
Ethan Vollrath
For this reading cycle I read The Given World, a psychological fiction by Marian Palaia. When we love and care for people so much it pains us when they leave or sudden changes occur around us.
Riley is a young girl at the start of the book growing up during the Vietnam War. She is already at a disadvantage because of the kind of lifestyle that she grew up in. Drugs had their first beginnings and she later fell into that trap. Her older brother Mick is just about to get discharged when suddenly
Mar 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I didn't think I was going to like this book. I'm not one for historical fiction, but I found it saved in my to-read list and decided to take a chance. What drew me in was how human the book was. Palaia's writing captured the essence of the main character, Riley, beautifully and authentically in a way that bypassed the mind - I felt myself understanding Riley, even if I couldn't name what it is I understood. It was these moments of deep knowing that engaged me most and made me glad I took a chan ...more
Lisa Lewis
Dec 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
A meandering but engaging story about a woman whose grief from losing her brother to Viet Nam (among other things) affects her life profoundly. I struggled a little to understand how she could be so messed up for so long, but the satisfying ending redeemed the story for me. Vivid descriptions of place, especially Montana and San Francisco.
Scott Southard
Mar 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
On WKAR’s Current State, I reviewed The Given World, a debut work of literary fiction by Marian Palaia.

You can listen to my new review here:

If you would rather read my review, you can do so below.

Book Review: The Given World by Marian Palaia

Reading a novel about loss and grief is never easy. Typically, we like to read stories with heroes, hope, and happy endings. But in the real world, and in the book The Given World by Marian Palaia, that is not always
Lolly K Dandeneau
Oct 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
I can see this as a movie, I know- reader's hate that but we are really given a deeper look into a period of time in American history that touched so many. The moment Riley's brother is missing in Vietnam, her world crumbles and as she is searching for him, she is losing herself. The siblings meant the world to each other, her brother having guided her through her life which we see from the beginning. I don't want to give away everything that happens, this is a novel rich in characters and every ...more
Heather Boyd
Mar 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The Given World follows Riley starting when she is thirteen, through twenty five years of struggling to figure out how to live and to feel and to be present, and it is written so remarkably that I want to quote her daily. Pay attention not only to the story, which is beautiful and hard and gritty and real, but to how intelligently Marian Palaia is able to put life into words. It's about human beings, who are wounded and flawed. It is about how simply surviving life is hard, but there is still be ...more
Jan 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
I liked the unpredictability of this book: the plotting, the language, the way life doesn't hew to a narrative arc—at least not until it's got some ballast, and the way it takes some of us more time to acquire that than others. The writing was lovely throughout, and while at some point the book felt more like linked short vignettes than a novel, it held together admirably. A good ride, and a good read.
Jul 21, 2015 rated it did not like it
received ARC from Simon & Schuster
thank you

I was really excited to read this book. but sadly I was disappointed. there was no plot and the charater was dull. I had 5 pages left but didn't finish. not my type of book.
Winter Sophia Rose
Apr 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating, Complex & Beautiful! I Loved It! ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Anticipation! 1 13 Mar 21, 2014 10:44AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Breath, Eyes, Memory
  • Rodham
  • A Touch of Gold (A Touch of Gold, #1)
  • The Strange Bird: A Borne Story
  • To Love and to Loathe
  • The Lady Brewer of London
  • The Bird and the Blade
  • You'd Be Mine
  • Good Eggs
  • The Tiger's Wife
  • The Night Country (The Hazel Wood, #2)
  • To Best the Boys
  • A Bend in the Road
  • Head Over Heels
  • Running with Sherman
  • The Arrangement
  • The Grammarians
  • Essentials of Assessing, Preventing, and Overcoming Reading Difficulties
See similar books…
Marian 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 t ...more

Related Articles

From independent presses, to tales in translation, to critical darlings and new debut novels, these books (all published in the U.S. this year)...
59 likes · 12 comments