This year’s Centre County Reads selection, Remarkably Bright Creatures, demonstrates that the right companions, however unlikely, help make our lowest moments a little less daunting. Shelby Van Pelt weaves an intriguing and heartwarming tale that will provoke discussion between neighbors and among book clubs. The story follows Tova Sullivan, an older woman and widow, who has found purpose and distraction through her work at an aquarium. Through a friendship with, of all things, an octopus named Marcellus, an itinerant young man named Cameron, and a few other characters, Tova discovers that companionship has powerful healing properties. What follows is an absorbing story that leaves readers feeling lighter, despite shedding a few tears along the way. Note: Shelby Van Pelt will be virtually visiting Schlow Library in March as part of the Centre County Reads program. Visit www.centrecountyreads.org for more information.
Like Remarkably Bright Creatures, The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa delivers an intriguing plot with relatable characters. Readers will enjoy the snarky perspective of Nana, a cat rescued by a young businessman, Satoru. When Satoru takes Nana on a trip across the country to rehome him, the cat is understandably confused. This is a short book for fans of The Art of Racing in the Rain. Fair warning: the cat does get hurt, but that isn’t the end of this curious tale.
Harry’s Trees by Jon Cohen doesn’t give a voice to animal companions like Van Pelt and Arikawa. Rather, Cohen introduces a fairy tale into his narrative and embraces his characters’ grief, as well as its resolution, with deep sensitivity. The introduction is grim but packs a punch. Harry Crane’s wife is killed tragically in the first chapter and his world spirals. Retreating to the woods of Northeastern Pennsylvania, he befriends a mother, Amanda, and her daughter, Oriana, who are just as lost as he is. Harry finds solace in his new job in forestry and in the friends he makes in Amanda and Oriana. There’s enough levity to keep readers engaged and the end is satisfying.
I’d be a poor librarian if I didn’t recommend at least one light-hearted story among all these poignant narratives. This one has the added advantage of still being very like Bright Creatures by way of its small-town setting and quirky cast of characters. In The Last Chance Library by Freya Sampson, June Jones is a staff member of the Chalcot Library, which is under siege by the local town council. The council wants to close the library and sell the building to a chain coffee shop. June has her work cut out for her. If you liked Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, then this will be a fun read.
If levity is your thing, then check out The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett by Annie Lyons. This book combines the sensitivity of Cohen with the good-hearted humor of Sampson. Eudora is an octogenarian who has accepted that death is close. She’s not exactly a curmudgeon, but when she makes friends with outrageous, 10-year-old Rose Trewidney, her life takes many unexpected twists. From pizza parties to line dancing, this book is a thoroughly nice read.
Finally, one for the stoic reader: The Friend by Sigrid Nunez. Described by the publisher as a “mediation on loss and a celebration of human-canine devotion,” this is a short, easily digestible novel that ponders the loss of a friend through the craft of writing, both from the human and canine perspective. What reads a bit like a diary and a bit like an essay, this book’s thoughtful, literary tone will appeal to readers who prefer a quiet, introspective book. Plus, there’s a dog in it. Find this and the other books at Schlow Centre Region Library or your favorite bookseller.
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