Genre: historical fiction; mystery; Christian fiction
Plot Summary: It’s the Great Depression, and young Alice Ripley’s life does a 180 when she loses her beloved library job and her boyfriend breaks up with her. Wanting to escape her boring life in Blue Island, IL, she decides to bring a donation of used books to a poor community in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. Little does she know that what she has planned as a nice two-week stay helping to organize Acorn’s library will turn into several months of living without electricity and running water. Feuding clans, suspicious moonshiners, a corrupt sheriff, a handsome fiddle player, an attempted murder, a centenarian, and a mystery surrounding the local mining company fill her days and nights, providing her with more than enough adventure to spare!
My Review: The time era and the fact that the story revolved around a librarian who loved to read had me interested from the time this book came out a few years ago. I’m so glad I got to reading it at this time in my life, as I felt I could really connect and identify with the main character. Alice is a person who feels like her life is going nowhere, and everything she thought was going anywhere turns out to be a deadend.
Alice is a heroine who tends toward the melodrama. She has lived many lives and had many experiences—all fictional, as we learn that the only life she’s really lived for 22 years has been between the covers of books. Books, books, books! She breathes books! But then her real life hands her a hard dose of Great Depression reality. That’s when she begins to discover that real life can be an exciting adventure! She learns to try new things and stretch herself to accomplish what she never thought she’d ever be doing.
The story is told in first person, and Alice is quite an honest and humourous storyteller. The characters are real and you quickly become comfortable friends with them all. The story is a good 350+ pages, but the plot is well-paced and doesn’t lag. No matter how good a book is, I usually can’t wait to finish it so I can check it off in my notebook and add it to the Books Read list, so I can start on the next one. But this was an exception. As I got closer and closer to the end, I didn’t want it to stop. I worried the story wouldn’t come out the way I hoped. I even cried at the end, and that is really saying something because I hardly ever cry over books. I guess that gives you a clue at how real the characters and story were to me. It actually made it into my Top Favorite books.
Reading the story aloud added a living dimension, especially to the character of 100 year old Miss Lillie. (So if you love audio books, this would probably be a great one you’ll love!) Her subtle manipulation had naive Alice twisted around her finger believing and doing all sorts of things—I just had to laugh! It would have been nice to see Alice learn how to not get caught up in other people’s designs for her, and to have this resolved with Miss Lillie and Mack.
The only other thing I’ll put up a fuss about was that I thought the “moral of the story” seemed to be reiterated a bit too early, too often, and too apparently. But there were lots of wonderful quotes I copied down for my quote book.
Besides the great characters and plot, I learned about the job of packhorse librarians in rural America during the 1930’s. I remember once reading an article many years ago about it, but it was fun to read about it in an historical context. Interesting, too, is the concept that communities are sustained through the knowledge that libraries provide through the world of books. A thought to consider during today’s low economic times.
This was the first book I’d ever read by 7-time Christy award winner Lynn Austin, but I have added several of her other books to my Notebook to definitely read! I really want to thank Mrs. Austin for writing this story. It met me where I’m at in life right now, and it has inspired me. Like Alice, I want to promise myself to live real life to the fullest, not just read about stories that happen to other people. An important question is raised in the story: “Is it possible to read too much?” My sister’s professor told of a story of when he was hiking a famous mountain in another country. The view was spectacular as he reached the summit, but then he saw another man, seated and reading a book. Incredulous, the professor asked him, “Why are you sitting with your nose in a book when you could be experiencing all this beauty?” Something to think about. I want to travel to some of the places that excite me when I pick up a good book—places like Egypt, Rome, the Orient Express… And I want to learn to dance and ride a horse. I want to stay at a fancy hotel someday and take a train trip. These are things I’ve never done. Of course, they will take a good deal of money, but at least they’re goals instead of me telling myself “I could never do that.” Meanwhile, I am going to make sure I live to the fullest now instead of Someday.
What about you? What have you read about in books that if you were to step back for a moment and think about it, you may find yourself wanting to try in reality? Have you read Wonderland Creek? Share your thoughts!
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