The Littlest Library, by Poppy Alexander

July 8, 2022 Book Reviews 9 ★★★★★

The Littlest Library, by Poppy AlexanderThe Littlest Library by Poppy Alexander
Published by Avon on July 19, 2022 (published in UK on 18 March 2021)
Genres: Fiction, Small-town romance
Pages: 336
Format: Kindle or ebook
Source: the publisher
Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Bookshop | Barnes & Noble | Audible
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five-stars

Jess Metcalf is perfectly happy with her quiet, predictable life—it's just the way she likes it. But when her beloved grandmother passes away and she loses her job at the local library, her life is turned upside-down.

Packing up her grandmother's books, she moves to a tiny cottage in a charming country village. To her surprise, Jess finds herself the owner of an old red telephone box, too—and she soon turns it into the littlest library around!

It's not long before the books are borrowed and begin to work their magic—somehow, they seem to be bringing the villagers together once more...

Maybe it's finally time for Jess to follow her heart and find a place to call home?

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

The Littlest Library demonstrates the healing power of books

This lovely, gentle book about finding community and the healing power of books was exactly what I was needing! You know how some books just feel like a hot cup of tea and a warm blanket? That’s what The Littlest Library was for me. The characters are well-drawn, the setting is charming, and the whole book is permeated with the sort of quiet hope and optimism that I associate with Elizabeth Goudge and L. M. Montgomery.* There’s also a romance of sorts, but it’s secondary to the overall plot. The main focus of the novel revolves around Jess as she finds both herself and a place to belong.

After losing both her library job and the grandmother who raised her (and who was, quite simply, her entire world), Jess impulsively sells their house and buys a charming but dilapidated cottage in a small Devon village, complete with a large garden, a small orchard, and a red telephone box. When she discovers that the village regulations require her to do something with the telephone box to benefit the community, Jess decides to turn it into a tiny library, using the books she and her grandmother Mimi both treasured. The friendships Jess forms within the village begin to heal not only her grief at Mimi’s death, but the trauma of losing her parents when she was four. And Jess and the library together begin to work a similar magic on the villagers, revitalizing the whole community.

But there are three dark clouds on Jess’s horizon. She only has funds for a few months before she will need to find a job, and library jobs are few and much too far to commute. The clerk of the village council is pushing a petition to use the red phone box for a defibrillator instead of a library, and it looks like she’s winning. And although Jess’s attraction to her grumpy neighbor Aidan seems mutual, Aiden’s family circumstances also make it appear impossible.

Will Jess give up and leave Middlemass? Or can the Littlest Library pull off a tiny miracle for her, too?

One of the things I loved most about the book is the understanding the author brings to a variety of characters. Jess’s early loss of her parents really shaped her worldview; she distrusts happiness, always expecting disaster to snatch it away, so she has never really reached out for it—until now. Her loving relationship with her grandmother, Mimi, was the one real joy in her life, and it’s impossible to blame Jess or regret that she chose to focus on Mimi after Mimi’s diagnosis. But it’s also wonderful to see Jess begin to take risks, to make friends, to reach out for the things that fulfill her and make her happy.

And the friends and acquaintances she makes in Middlemass are likewise trying to find their way. There’s Diana, sixtyish and a little outrageous, but lonely; Becky, who put her law career on hold to be a stay-at-home mum, and now feels overwhelmed and a little resentful; Paddy, trying to keep the village shop afloat, who wants to reopen the post office but can’t afford the time or a paid assistant to do so**; and tree-surgeon Aiden and his daughter Maisie, trying to cope with Aiden’s difficult ex. Other villagers make appearances as well, including a pair of feuding sisters, a charming older man who bicycles to the Littlest Library every few days, another older single man who sits on the village council, and the head of the local primary school. I wouldn’t have minded in the least if the book had been a little longer and explored the lives of some of those characters in more depth, but regardless of the time spent with they, they all come across as real, believable human beings, with strengths and foibles, likes and dislikes. For many of the characters, Jess’s friendship or the Littlest Library and its books (or both) are key to resolving their own problems, which I thought was a truly lovely touch, and a good reminder that none of us is an island.

Another aspect I loved, and would have enjoyed more of, was the underlined quotes and comments that Mimi left inside many of the books. Some speak to Jess, and may have been intended for her, but they clearly speak to other readers as well, helping them and inspiring them in various ways. The Library and its books are central to the plot, and while there are quite a few references to the books and to Mimi’s annotations, I would have delighted in more.

Finally, there’s Jess and Aiden’s relationship. Or non-relationship. Don’t go in expecting this to be a romance novel, or even fiction-with-a-strong-romance like Jenny Colgan’s books; it’s subtler and quieter than that. What starts out with a certain amount of antagonism slowly becomes a friendship fraught with attraction and frustrated by apparent impossibility. Ms. Alexander writes about Jess’s feelings (the only ones we are directly privy to, in the novel’s third-person-limited viewpoint) and Jess and Aiden’s interactions with deep understanding and a delicate touch. But the eventual resolution, while hopeful and satisfying, is more a beginning than the proverbial HEA ending; I could really have done with an epilogue.

I’m delighted to have read The Littlest Library, and it’s going on my list of “books to give people in 2022.” If you’re looking for a comforting, comfortable, quietly cheery book to counteract all the doom and gloom in the real world these days, The Littlest Library is definitely worth reading.

*I’m not saying that Alexander’s prose is as beautiful as that of Goudge or Montgomery, though there are some lovely descriptions and some wonderful glints of humor. But like their works, The Littlest Library is permeated with a sense of possibility, a belief in the essential goodness of most people, and a faith (secular in this case) that if we give our best, things will work out well in the end.

**In many English villages, the post office operates within the village shop, and is run by the shopkeeper.

five-stars

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • COYER Seasons 2022: Spring

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