UCSB graduate and former Santa Barbara Independent writer Rachel Howard has published her first novel, The Risk of Us, a tight, compelling story about a couple in the midst of adopting a precocious and spirited child who also carries a load of trauma. Seven-year-old Maresa has experienced things no child should have to face.
Prior to writing The Risk of Us, Howard wrote and published a memoir, The Lost Night, and then spent several years writing a novel that never quite clicked, though working on it for so long taught Howard valuable lessons. She said she discovered the voice of the narrator of The Risk of Us on a drive to San Francisco, and once she had that, the shape of the story became clear. Eight months later, the novel was completed. In prose that is spare and compact, the reader experiences the doubt, confusion, and hope the couple feels as they navigate the bureaucracy of the foster care system, endure meetings with social workers and therapists, read the books recommended to them, and try to create a home for a child they find delightful, bewildering, and sometimes frightening.
Howard creates and maintains an excruciating tension and uncertainty around the finalization of Maresa’s adoption. Bringing Maresa into their lives exposes the couple’s own emotional baggage, frailties, and insecurities. The idea of adopting a child is one thing; actually doing it and creating a family is something that must be earned.
Rachel Howard will be signing books at Chaucer’s Books (3321 State St.) Tuesday, April 23.