RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of the written word who like the "high-brow", Bookstore maniacs, Contemporary Romance fans
This book was provided by the publishers and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I read an ARC, so any differences in the quotes or plot points are likely changes to from the ARC to the final published version.
"There's no such thing as a used book. Or there's no such thing as a book if it's not being used."
This debut novel is heart-wrenching and heart-breaking. It's full of kooky, robust characters and a story that makes you think about who you are and what your preconceived notions of life are all about. But I just didn't love it.... sometimes, I didn't even like it.
Esme is a transplanted 23-year old English native working towards her PhD in art history at Columbia University in New York City. She's in love with her boyfriend Mitchell van Leuven, a 30-something old-money rich, handsome, charming, economics professor at the New School. When Esme discovers that she's pregnant with Mitchell's child, she initially decides to terminate the pregnancy. But she can't go through it, and so she decides to tell Mitchell about the baby. But before she can, Mitchell breaks up with her, telling her that he never loved her, they were never exclusive, and he was never sexually turned on by her.
Esme turns to The Owl, a somewhat shabby, eclectic second-hand, privately-owned, local bookstore looking for work. By the terms of her visa, Esme can't take employment anywhere but Columbia. But without any other financial support (and not wanting to tell her parents), Esme needs a job. Which George, The Owl's owner, provides in his bookstore. Through Esme's experience behind the counter, we meet a wide range of colorful and kooky characters, including Luke who's handsome, reserved, and plays the guitar; George, The Owl's owner who's into idealism and organic healthfood; and DeeMo, a homeless man who barters odd jobs for money.
Mitchell decides to comes back around, trying to reconcile with Esme, only to discover the baby issue. After trying to convince her to go through with an abortion, he finally gives up and proposes to her. But Mitchell doesn't do anything without a dramatic flair in front of an audience in just the right setting. His snooty upper-crust family don't approve, and Esme quickly finds herself out-of-her-depth in Mitchell's world. Does he really love her or is he simply thumbing his nose at his family?
Esme's confronted with many complex life choices, among them motherhood, religion, relationships, love, and family.
(Esme) When people say "to father," they generally mean that one biological act--the act of begetting a child. It is different with the verb "to mother." "to mother" implies care. A man's act of fathering can easily be that one seed sown; a woman's act of mothering can take up the rest of her life.
I have mixed emotions about this book. Mostly, I like Esme; I don't always agree with her, but I appreciate her POV and her determination to make up her own mind and live her own life. She's faced with a lot of difficult choices and challenges in this book, and yet Esme manages to keep it all from dragging her down for too long.
The Owl certainly seems like just the sort of second-hand bookstore that exists somewhere in the burgeoning metropolis of New York City. And the characters at The Owl are fully realized and distinct. They might be a little crazy, but they're fun and add life to the story. They embrace Esme (mostly) without judgement and help her to find her new "normal".
Mitchell and his family... well, yes, these folks exist in the real world. But I found it interesting that most of Mitchell's "crowd" were painted with negative strokes. While I thought his father might be decent, I quickly changed my mind. Much of what Mitchell says seems reasonable; but colored through his Peter-Pan attitude and his complete self-centeredness, he's just plain unlikeable and unredeemable.
Stella, Esme's neighbor is a hoot. She always livens up the scene.
* I'm fairly well-read, and yet I found myself having to constantly look up references to authors and using the dictionary to understand the meaning of several words used in every-day conversations by these characters. At times, the book made me feel downright dumb. But that's MY issue. The characters in this book seem to use language appropriate to who they are.
* I was irritated with Esme to the point that I wanted to SHAKE HER! But the heart wants what it wants, and you can't tell your heart to stop loving someone just because he's a Class-A, Narcissistic Jerk. And yet, I couldn't understand what drew Esme to Mitchell in the first place or why she'd fall in love with him.
(Mitchell) "I want to have you in my life as a matter of choice, Esme. I don't like being constrained to it."
(Esme) "You're not constrained to it."
(Mitchell) "You're forcing a connection between us."
(Esme) "That connection is made whether we like it or not, I say. He whirls away from me, as if we are in a movie. "You slept with me yesterday so that I would be easier to persuade," I say.
(Mitchell) "You're wrong," he says, looking out of the window.
(Esme) "Then why?"
(Mitchell )He shrugs. "I wanted to? I thought I wanted to? Why did you do it?"
(Esme) "I wanted to."
(Mitchell) "Okay. So no harm done."
And, of course, I fully expected a different ending to the book, it's still a possibility - or I like to think so. And I applaud the author for not taking the easy way out.
I can't say that I like this book... not exactly. I don't hate it or dislike it; but I might not have finished it or skimmed it rather than read the entire thing. I found Mitchell so unlikeable and Esme's love for him so insane, I just didn't want to read about his playing with her - batting her around as if she's a cat's toy. And yet, I'm sure this book will find its audience and its voice.