REVIEW: Greetings from Nowhere by Barbara O’Connor
Aggie isn’t expecting visitors at the Sleepy Time Motel in the Great Smoky Mountains. Since her husband died, she is all alone with her cat, Ugly, and keeping up with the bills and repairs has become next to impossible. The pool is empty, the garden is overgrown, and not a soul has come to stay in nearly three months. When she reluctantly places a For Sale ad in the newspaper, Aggie doesn’t know that Kirby and his mom will need a room when their car breaks down on the way to Kirby’s new reform school. Or that Loretta and her parents will arrive in her dad’s plumbing company van on a trip meant to honor the memory of Loretta’s birth mother. Or that Clyde Dover will answer the For Sale ad in such a hurry and move in with his daughter, Willow, looking for a brand-new life to replace the one that was fractured when Willow’s mom left. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all is that Aggie and her guests find just the friends they need at the shabby motel in the middle of nowhere.
From an author long recognized for her true Southern voice and heartfelt characters, Greetings from Nowhere, with its four intertwining stories, brings Barbara O’Connor’s work to a new level of sophistication.
Dear Ms. O’Connor,
As I discovered while reading “Wish” two years ago, you definitely have a way with child characters. They view the world differently and have different priorities from adults and here Loretta, Kirby and Willow come alive and in some ways take me back to my childhood.
Existing without mention of cell phones or Facebook, I put together the various clues as there’s no set date, but I think the book has a sort of timeless feel to it. Aggie’s court motel certainly hasn’t been updated for a while. Since the sudden death of her beloved husband, Harold, she has struggled to keep the place going but with bills piling up and repairs beyond what she can manage, Aggie reluctantly decides to place a “for sale” ad.
With her set of ceramic horses and best friend to play with them, Willow’s life would be perfect except for the fact that her mother has left and her father just sits around, lost. Willow wishes for her mother to come home or just to write her but when her father announces they’re moving, she wonders if her mother will even be able to find her to write.
Loretta has never met her “other” mother but a package arrives with all Loretta might ever know about her. A charm bracelet has clues to places that must have meant something to her and Loretta’s parents decide to take their adopted daughter to those places starting with the Great Smokey Mountains.
All Kirby ever hears from his overworked, frazzled mother is how much better his younger half brother is. Since no one pays any attention to him for being good, Kirby will get noticed any way he can even if that is by irritating everyone around him. Finally his mother has had enough and with money she whines out of his father, Kirby is going to spend the summer in a mountain (reform) school.
As I said, I love the descriptions of things as children see and experience them – the excitement, the exaggeration, the sense of little control over their lives, the little things that grown-ups don’t notice anymore, the happiness in trinkets which mean the world to them, and the simple pleasures of giving to someone.
Yes, the children change a bit. Loretta finds a piece of her birth mother which her adopted parents are wise enough and loving enough foster and not to begrudge her. Kirby is given the chance to show that he can be the “good young man” who doesn’t need to do bad in order to get his mother’s attention. And Willow finds that her mother will always love and remember her no matter where Willow is.
Aggie, though, touches my heart. I remember these little roadside, courtyard motels in the South – some of which are actually still there. This one has been Aggie and Harold’s life since they opened it after the war when Harold had been in the Army Air Corps. Now even though it’s rundown and frayed at the edges, Aggie can barely stand the idea of leaving it. Harold might be gone but he’s still “there” for her. Well, she talks to him out in the garden among the tomato plants and makes a few requests of him. It’s Aggie who relates so well to the children and seems to have the right thing to say even as she watches the motel court be spruced up and modernized and prepares to leave it and the Great Smokey Mountains she loves.
The ending is feel good but believable and I think that friendships are made which might just last forever. And Ugly won’t be uprooted either. A-