How to read a book A novel

Monica Wood

Book - 2024

"Violet Powell, a twenty-two-year-old from rural Abbott Falls, Maine, is being released from prison after serving twenty-two months for a drunk-driving crash that killed a local kindergarten teacher. Harriet Larson, a retired English teacher who runs the prison book club, is facing the unsettling prospect of an empty nest. Frank Daigle, a retired machinist, hasn't yet come to grips with the complications of his marriage to the woman Violet killed. When the three encounter each other one morning in a bookstore in Portland-Violet to buy the novel she was reading in the prison book club before her release, Harriet to choose the next title for the women who remain, and Frank to dispatch his duties as the store handyman-their lives to intersect in transformative ways. How to Read a Book is an unsparingly honest and profoundly hopeful story about letting go of guilt, seizing second chances, and the power of books to change our lives. With the heart, wit, grace, and depth of understanding that has characterized her work, Monica Wood illuminates the decisions that define a life and the kindnesses that make life worth living"--

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Boston : Mariner Books [2024]
Main Author
Monica Wood (author)
Physical Description
280 pages ; 24 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

Every Friday, for 2 hours, 12 incarcerated women gather to discuss books with Harriet, a retired English teacher whom they affectionately refer to as Bookie. Violet is one of these 12 women, a 22-year-old who is released after serving 2 years for a drunk-driving accident that left a kindergarten teacher dead. Feeling lost and adrift as she attempts to establish a life for herself in Portland, Violet decides to buy the book she never got to finish in the book club and runs into Harriet at the bookstore. Their chance encounter takes a somewhat dramatic turn when the store's handyman (and the husband of the woman who died in the car crash) sees them and seemingly lunges at Violet. But this initial interaction turns into something much more meaningful as an unlikely friendship forms among them. Told with compassion and empathy, Wood's (The One-in-a-Million Boy, 2016) tender novel explores the ways people can surprise themselves and others. A deeply humane and touching novel; highly recommended for book clubs and fans of Shelby Van Pelt's Remarkably Bright Creatures (2022).

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

A fatal drunk driving accident and a prison book club set the stage for Wood's heartwarming if simplistic story of second chances (after The One-in-a-Million Boy). An intoxicated Violet Powell, 22, gets behind the wheel (the reasons why come out later) and kills Lorraine Daigle, a 61-year-old kindergarten teacher. Convicted of vehicular manslaughter and given a nearly two-year sentence, Violet is deeply remorseful and grateful for the prison book club led by Harriet Larson, a retired English teacher and widow. While visiting a bookstore, Harriet runs into an older man who turns out to be Lorraine's widower, Frank, a retired machinist. In chapters from Frank's point of view, the reader learns that his new job as handyman for the bookstore has given him a sense of purpose since Lorraine's death the previous year. Then Violet is released early from prison, and she crosses paths with Harriet and Frank at the shop. The novel improves in the second half with an immersive section on Violet's job assisting a scientist on researching cognition in parrots, and there are some poignant revelations about how she came to drive drunk that night and about the Daigles' marriage. Unfortunately, the minor-key plot is fairly predictable. This one's a bit too formulaic to stay with readers for long. Agent: Gail Hochman, Brandt & Hochman Literary. (June)

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

After accidentally causing the death of a fellow driver, a Maine woman does time in prison and then reestablishes her life on the outside. Violet Powell was just 19, drunk and high, when she caused the death of Lorraine Daigle, a beloved mother and kindergarten teacher. She is convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 28 months in prison. Though she thinks she won't be able to survive, she does. Prison turns out to be excruciating and monotonous, and while she's serving time, Troy, her "boyfriend-slash-fiancé-slash-future-slash-everything," never writes or visits. Even worse, her mother dies and her family blames her. The book club that meets every Friday is her solace, along with Kitten, Jennie Big, Aimee, Dawna-Lynne, and the seven other members of the group. The discussions, in which Violet and her fellow inmates get to exert some control over their lives by complaining about books, are a brief respite. Harriet, the former teacher who leads the group, and the other women are willing to see Violet's humanity. Violet, who will never forgive herself for her bad choices, is both the best of herself and the worst of herself at every moment. When she's released, her sister drops her in Portland with a prepaid one-year lease on a furnished apartment, money, clothes, and the information that no one in her town or family can forgive her or wants to see her again. She must find her own way. A chance meeting with Harriet in a bookstore turns into an unexpected meeting with Frank Daigle, husband of the woman whose death she caused. This gorgeously told story follows the first few months after Violet's release, what she calls the shimmering time, as she tries to define herself on the outside. And at first, only Harriet and Frank are willing to see her for who she is. A finely wrought story, beautifully told, with deeply memorable characters. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.