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The Bookstore

I, Esme Garland, do not approve of mess. This is unfortunate, because ever since I woke up this morning I’ve had a feeling that I might be in one. 

Impressionable and idealistic, Esme Garland is a young British woman who finds herself studying art history in New York. She loves her apartment and is passionate about the city and her boyfriend; her future couldn’t look brighter. Until she finds out that she’s pregnant. Esme’s boyfriend, Mitchell van Leuven, is old-money rich, handsome, successful, and irretrievably damaged. When he dumps Esme—just before she tries to tell him about the baby—she resolves to manage alone. She will keep the child and her scholarship, while finding a part-time job to make ends meet. But that is easier said than done, especially on a student visa. The Owl is a shabby, second-hand bookstore on the Upper West Side, an all-day, all-night haven for a colorful crew of characters: handsome and taciturn guitar player Luke; Chester, who hyperventilates at the mention of Lolita; George, the owner, who lives on protein shakes and idealism; and a motley company of the timeless, the tactless, and the homeless. The Owl becomes a nexus of good in a difficult world for Esme—but will it be enough to sustain her? Even when Mitchell, repentant and charming, comes back on the scene?”

I won an ARC of The Bookstore from the Goodreads First Reads program. It wasn’t a book I was particularly interested in (the giveaways I win are usually ones that I’m not), but it did look pretty good. I just love books about books. Obviously, The Bookstore is completely different than, say, The Book Thief, but they both purport to be about the love of books. It was also a little like Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, although not quite as zany and much more realistic. Still, the books have some similarities: an old, dingy but lovely bookstore, a person in some trouble who starts working there, and some very odd clientele. 

The writing style was a bit odd and matter-of-fact. For some reason, it reminded me of The Language of Flowers. The book was also hilarious at times, especially one of the beginning sections. Still, I felt that something was missing at first. Soon, though, the book picked up. The one thing that made me uneasy was that I didn’t agree with Esme’s decision, at all. But these are fictional characters, and I’ve been thinking recently: who actually cares? Besides, she’s pretty confident in her choice, and it ends up getting her a job at the Owl, the bookstore in New York she loves.

The Bookstore was a very fast read; once one gets into it, it flies by even though it’s not exactly suspenseful or anything. It is fairly compelling though, and Esme is an interesting character, a mix of contradictions. On the one hand, she’s studying for a PhD at Columbia; on the other, she’s having a baby. How is she going to balance these two things?

I really did not like Mitchell; he easily makes Esme come back to him a second time, and he was awful. Later, she’s able to see how stupid she’s been, but when he’s right there, she can’t resist. After she’s worked a few days at the bookstore, he shows up again, “repentant and charming.” Although he still doesn’t want her to have the baby she’s determined to have. I didn’t agree with her choice, but the point was that it was her choice, and she was determined. But when Mitchell is around, she’s weak, and she makes choices she knows are bad but she can’t help. There’s also the baby to think of.

The scenes when Esme is meeting Mitchell’s family are quite chilling and well described. They’re old money, and I really didn’t like them. Mitchell’s family kind of take for granted their privileges, as Mitchell does. He’s really a jerk. One’s opinion of him gets worse and worse as the book goes on.

The plot of The Bookstore was certainly not that interesting, but it was an enjoyable read, if not very insightful or entertaining. It wasn’t bad, and it wasn’t great. I did really love the descriptions of the Owl, the bookstore Esme starts working at, even if they were a bit vague. Luke was an interesting character too; I couldn’t tell if he liked or disliked Esme. Probably a little bit of both.

The story probably gets 3 stars, the writing and execution 3 also. The ending was really predictable. Overall, I would recommend checking this one out of the library if it sounds interesting, but otherwise, skipping it.

334 pages.

Rating: ***

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