This book starts out feeling like a cross between the movies “Stepford Wives” and “Pleasantville”. Eleven-year-old twin sisters Elodee and Naomi leave their hometown of Jupiter, and move with their parents to Eventown. There are no phones, televisions, or computers. They spend the first few days thinking they’re in paradise – no stress or conflict or unpleasantness. Everyone agrees with everyone else, acts the same, and is polite to a tee. The kids all love school! Something is definitely wrong in this town.
Alarm bells go off in Elodee’s mind when she visits the library and discovers that every book is blank. And what’s up with those mandatory interviews at the Welcoming Center? Her sister Naomi seems different after her interview. Elodee completes only half of her interview, at which time she figures out what is going on in Eventown.
*** SPOILER ALERT ***
In the end, you find out that the town has been set up as a refuge for families who have gone through a severe life trauma. As they are interviewed at the Welcoming Center, their memories of life before coming to Eventown are erased. They no longer feel the sadness or anger or anxiety they once felt. They are in a safe, predictable place where they can live happily every after. The question is: If you erase all the painful parts of life, can you fully enjoy being human?
Although this book is written for kids, it covers some deep topics – sibling relationships, family crisis, mind manipulation, depression, and death. The farther you get into the story, the more serious it becomes. The youngest reader age I would recommend is 5th grade.
The story is told by Landon Carter when he is 57 years old, recalling a time forty years earlier. It was the 1950s in the small town of Beaufort, North Carolina. Landon and his buddies would sneak out at night to get into mischief, and often pull pranks on folks around town. Although it was a very religious community, the local minister, Hegbert Sullivan, and his daughter Jamie were frequently subjects of their off-color jokes. Jamie dressed modestly, wore a plain brown sweater, always carried her Bible, and was unfailingly kind.
Landon found himself thrown together with Jamie, first in desperation as a date for the school dance, and later as a fellow actor in the church’s annual Christmas play. For the first time, he saw how beautiful Jamie was, both inside and out. They began doing things together, like visiting kids at the local orphanage, and raising money for them. Landon’s old friends ridiculed him for hanging around Jamie, but after a while that really didn’t matter. About the time Landon realized that he had fallen in love with Jamie, she told him that she was dying.
The things that kept this book from being a sappy, shallow love story are: 1 – it was based on the author’s own sister, who was dying as he wrote the story; and 2 – it portrayed a kind of love based on devotion to God and others. As Landon and Jamie looked outward and tried to meet the needs of people around them, they formed a close bond to each other. While the book was a tear-jerker, it also showed how anyone, no matter how young or old, can make the world a better place just by loving others.
The book was made into a movie in 2002. While the book was set in the 1950s, the producers of the movie changed it to the late 1990s. They felt young people would be more drawn to a current-day story instead of one from the mid-century. Whether you read the book or watch the movie, you are sure to be moved by this story of deep love.
Dena Nordstrom thinks she knows what will make her happy – to become a tv newscaster. So she spends her life trying to climb the ladder of fame and success. Eventually she makes it big, but finds that life at the top without any close friends or family is empty.
The story toggles between Dena in the big city, and her distant cousins, Macky and Norma Warren, in the little town of Elmwood Springs, Missouri. The Warrens have tried to get Dena to visit them, but she always comes up with excuses to not visit them. Dena has been alone for so long that she doesn’t know how to make or enjoy any close relationships. She backs away from everyone who tries to get to know her.
I have to say that Dena was not a very likable character at the beginning of the book. But the farther I got into the story, the more sorry I felt for her. She was missing out of so much of life, and didn’t even know it. The townsfolk of Elmwood Springs were funny and lovable, and kept the story from being too negative. All in all, this was an enjoyable read.
I have to say, the entire time I was reading this book, I felt as if I was just down the road from Mitford, the fictional town created by author Jan Karon. It had a priest as one of the main characters, just as Mitford had Father Tim (although the Grace book has a Catholic priest instead of an Episcopal priest). The storyline centers around the happenings and mishaps of the townsfolk. People are tight-knit and neighborly, just as they are in Mitford. It’s the kind of place everyone wants to live, but such a place probably doesn’t exist.
This is one of those feel-good novels that is soothing to the soul and easy to read. It is uncomplicated and pleasant. So if that’s the kind of story you are looking for, pick it up at your local bookstore or library, and enjoy!