The term “crossing borders” brings to mind families, desperate for a better life, risking it all to get into the U.S.
But there are many other borders to cross in life — those of family, gender, culture, race, religion, routine and romance. All are revealed with poignancy and perception in the self-published novel “The Risk in Crossing Borders” by Lynnwood resident William McClain.
The lives of an international cast of characters intersect in McClain’s first book, which is set in Seattle, Syria, Beirut and France. The novel centers on Yana Pickering, a 54-year-old divorced woman whose job, friends and two grown children keep her entrenched in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood.
Or so she believes.
Through her children’s contacts, Yana is inspired to break out of her comfortable routine. A knock on her door one morning after a thunderous storm begins the first of Yana’s many unexpected midlife encounters — with Emma, who was named Eddie when she was Yana’s daughter’s boyfriend.
Through Emma, Yana learns what transgender individuals experience — violence, prejudice, hate crimes, cruelty, rejection. She is so moved that she takes it upon herself to avenge the wrongs experienced by Emma.
Next, dinner conversation with her son and daughter and their partners introduces Yana to the Middle East and its history of endless conflicts, refugee camps and families torn apart by warring factions.
Yana learns that acquaintances of her son-in-law are returning to Syria to help search for the missing children of their best friend, who was a surgeon at a major Aleppo hospital, now lying in ruins like the rest of the country. The missing teenage daughter and son are assumed to have fled into the countryside after bombs destroyed their home and killed their mother.
After Yana asks to join the group going to Beirut to search for the children at refugee camps, it’s the first step to a great leap in her life that she never imagined.
McClain, 64, is a former high school teacher and corporate retirement planner. The subject of his book took root when he started tutoring at the Snohomish County nonprofit organizations Refugees NW and YouthCare.
“I’ve always been interested in the stories and life experiences of those from different backgrounds, and have often been inspired by their resilience,” McClain said. “I chose Syria because it’s a tragedy of epic proportions that’s happening in real time, yet it feels remote to many of us in the U.S. My goal was to humanize their experiences.”
Taking risks is a theme throughout the novel.
“I hope the message that comes from the book is to be brave and take chances, no matter where you are in life’s path,” McClain said. “It doesn’t have to involve moving across the globe. It’s more about trying things that are new, and finding what’s important to you and that gives back to your local and global communities.”
McClain also stressed that leaving one’s comfort zone can lead to remarkable moments — maybe even changes of mind and heart.
“Over the years, I’ve become more aware of the concept of ‘the other,’ which I consider to be people whose lives, culture, appearance, and/or beliefs are very different from (our own),” he said. “Throughout history, we have reacted negatively, and often violently to ‘the other.’ I think some of that may be hardwired into humans.
“It takes education and perseverance to move ourselves and our society toward a more accepting and diverse viewpoint.”
McClain’s favorite quote by author Anthony Doerr could also be a reference to his own novel: “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.”
“The Risk in Crossing Borders”
By William McClain
Green Planet Books. 278 pages. $14.99.
About the author
Now retired, William McClain, 64, taught high school math and physics for 10 years and worked as a consultant on company retirement plans for 30 years. Before COVID-19 hit, the Lynnwood resident volunteered as a tutor for refugees and homeless youth. Go to www.williammcclainwriter.com to learn more.
Washington North Coast Magazine
This article is featured in the fall/winter issue of Washington North Coast Magazine, a supplement of The Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue is $3.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $14 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or go to www.washingtonnorthcoast.com for more information.