When Harry Dolan's publicist contacted me about an ARC, I told her I found it especially fun to read Dolan's first book because it happened where I lived. She said, “Oh, good! I have another Michigan book...” and proceeded to send it.
That sounds less flattering than it ends up, but the truth is, I hadn't heard of the author or the book before it arrived at my house. It is a different genre than I normally read and I just think I never would have otherwise run across it.
That said, it was a delightful surprise... not that it is so surprising... just that because I wasn't looking, it wasn't expected...
Madeline Stone is working in a Chicago restaurant, engaged to a well-off man, and looking forward to art school, but she has felt discontented since the death of her guardian Emmy, which followed a very long illness. She feels lost and 'off'.
When she receives a request from the long-time lover of the grandfather who refused to acknowledge her—who left her with a stranger, rather than taking her in when her mother ran off, she is not sure what to think. But Gladys is insistent... she needs help with her sister who is a stroke survivor, and thinks Madeline is the perfect person to do it—to move a couple hundred miles north to a tiny town on the banks of Lake Superior... near her roots... to learn who she is while she provides care for Arbutus.
The offer isn't very appealing, but the women are in Chicago staying with Arbutus's son, so what is the harm in meeting them? And Arbutus is one of those rare people who brings life joy... a pillar... the kind of person who makes you want to reach for what you are... and Madeline decides she needs to go. She breaks off her engagement, quits her job, packs her aging car and drives to another life.
McAllister is tiny. A tourist town in the summer, but without an income of any sort in the winter, so people are very poor. They have to go a long ways to get most things, and in spite of not always liking things their townsmen do, they come through for each other when it matters. These are things you can't learn without living through them... Madeline falls, gets up, fails, and goes on... there is the gamut of emotions, but mostly there is self-discovery.
This is really a great book. I love tiny towns—they become characters in the story. And I love a story where the MC is sure they want one thing, and it turns out they didn't even know themselves well enough to know what they want. It is a coming of age among adults, and I think these stories are in many ways even more interesting than coming of age among young people. It takes a while to learn who we are.
So if you are at all inclined, I definitely recommend it.