Book Chatter: Small-town books


I’ll be the first to admit that cities have their charms, in the form of restaurants, public transit, and festivals. And major sports franchises. And the knowledge that if a major musician or art exhibit is going on tour, you probably won’t have to drive far to see it. Also, not having to explain to people that you’re “from X. You know, near Y. Like if you head south from Z, it’s about two hours away. No, that’s actually Q, but it’s pretty close to X.”

But if you grew up in small towns like I did, there are certain things you just can’t get in cities. Like stars, and the sound of wheat rustling in the breeze, and the way sunlight filters through the walls of an old barn and makes the hay dust dance.


Pretend you’re here. Now take a deep breath. Nothing else like it, is there?


If you’re missing your hometown today, try one of these books set in a small town — and feel free to chime in with other favourites I’ve missed. Let’s feel the small-town love!


We love the oldies-but-goodies here. If you haven’t read Katherine Paterson’s classic Jacob Have I Loved lately, give it another go — you might be surprised by how much you identify with the protagonist, especially towards the end. If you’ve never read it, you’re in for a treat. It’s the story of Sara Louise Bradshaw, the dark older twin of bubbly blonde Caroline. Everyone on tiny Rass Island loves Caroline and predicts great things for her, but they all seem to take Sara for granted. Rambling through the years of WWII and beyond, Jacob Have I Loved examines belonging and identity with a tenderness I’ve yet to see elsewhere.


If you liked Jacob Have I Loved, try Tiffany Baker’s The Gilly Salt Sisters, with its sharper edges and darker tone. The Gilly women have always run the salt ponds on the outskirts of Prospect, Massachusetts, but at a price: The salt hates men, and does everything it can to drive them off. Some would say that Jo, the elder Gilly sister, has become mostly salt as well, since she’s a gaunt loner (and, some say, a witch). Her bubbly sister Claire thought she escaped the salt years ago when she married wealthy Whit Turner … but then she’s forced back to the failing salt farm with her husband’s pregnant mistress in tow. Together the three women have to decide: Will they let the salt force them farther apart or bind them together in a common cause?


Lastly, there’s Sarah Dessen’s Keeping the Moon, which follows 15-year-old Colie Sparks’ summer with her aunt while her fitness-guru mother goes on tour. As she hears reports of her mother’s international success, newly thin Colie can’t help but think of the days when the two of them would eat Hostess donuts and pork rinds as they traveled from town to town in search of opportunity. In the broken, cluttered rooms of her aunt’s home, Colie realizes that she’s using each salad as a shield, the same way she once used her spare tire. It takes a job at the local diner, two crazy coworkers, her unruffled aunt, and the bizarre artist downstairs to convince Colie that she can finally put down her shields and embrace a vulnerable life.

What’s your favourite book set in a small town? (And what’s your favourite memory of a small town?)


Photo credits:

Ferndale photo from tpsdave on Pixabay.

Barn photo from unicorns on Pixabay.

Book covers from Better World Books: Jacob Have I Loved, The Gilly Salt Sisters, and Keeping the Moon.


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