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The Burden of Truth    by Neal Griffin order for
Burden of Truth
by Neal Griffin
Order:  USA  Can
Forge, 2020 (2020)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Neal Griffin's The Burden of Truth is no light, escapist read. Open it, and it will draw you in and break your heart. It's the story of eighteen-year-old Omar Ortega, an A student about to graduate as his high school valedictorian. His limited choices in life steadily narrow, as he simply tries to do everything he can to help his family.

Life has been tough for them since the father's deportation forced them to move in with Edgar Renteria (who had worked for Omar's dad) in the Vista barrio. He offered the family a room in exchange for half the apartment rent. Now, Omar's mother works three jobs while Renteria spends her money on booze and beer - and casts a lecherous eye on Omar's sister Sofia.

As soon as he graduates, Omar will join the army and use the money to provide the family with a much safer home (without Renteria) in San Marcos. In the meantime, he's determined to protect Sofia and to keep his younger brother Hector out of the Eastsider gang. Can you guess where this is heading?

Readers also meet cop Travis as he, his wife Molly, and young family of four, adjust to their move to the area for Travis's new job as a patrol deputy in the San Diego County Sheriff's Department. Life is tough for this family as well, since the commute to work makes dad 'a ghost for half the week.' On the job, Travis partners with Ellie, a female cop with attitude and grit.

Events move quickly and Omar's attempts to keep his brother safe lead to his arrest as a cop killer by Detective Murphy, who has 'a rep of always pushing things to the limit.' Biased to begin with, Murphy becomes quickly certain of Omar's guilt and convinces Travis. Ellie's mind is more open.

The book is split into two parts, Before and After. Each is compelling. Readers root for the Ortegas and are horrified by the way the Omar's well developed plan for them is derailed. This excellent, yet very disturbing novel, portrays racism, but centers on the lack of life choices that so many decent people face.

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