Sometimes a book speaks to you so much that you have to crawl inside it at the risk of anything else you had planned. That is what happened today with Bella Osborne’s The Library.
Since childhood I’ve been a sucker for stories about unlikely friendships, especially when it is an adult and a child who meet on equal terms with mutual respect. Roald Dahl was a master at this and I’m certain it was his books that made me love this type of plot. Catherine Ryan Hyde achieved it recently in Dreaming of Flight, but I think I like the different characters’ voices in The Library even better.
Tom is an awkward, sensitive teenager. His mother died when he was young, his father drinks, he gets bullied at school, and the future looks bleak. The only shiny part of his life is Farah Shah, the luminous girl he likes from afar. On a whim he seeks the sanctuary of the local library, using it as a safe connection to his late mother, and clumsily exits with a bag full of romance novels. In doing so he happens upon a mugging. Widowed seventy two year old Maggie is pretty scrappy but she is, after all, seventy two. Tom’s rescue attempt, besides rewarding him with a black eye, sets a new friendship in motion.
It begins with weekly chats on Saturday at the library. For the first time in a very long time Tom feels seen. He feels validated. Unlike his struggling father, Maggie is easy. She’s not fussy, demanding, or judgemental. Just easy. Easy is nice. Plus, she finds Tom interesting, with great potential, and an old soul. Over time, as you would expect, Tom and Maggie come to rely on each other, filling the gaps in each other’s lives.
The Library isn’t really about the library, although it does act as a secondary character. Instead, it reminds us that the local library brings people together with the common goal of stepping outside their worlds and into the imaginative adventures that only books can provide. Books have no demands except that you love to read and give them a chance. It’s unconditional. But finding that kind of love from a living, breathing friend? Even better.
I adored this book. The characters feel so real. Tom’s teenage hangups, dreams, and expectations are right on the mark. Maggie–on the other hand–is wise, quirky, and more forgiving after years of dodging Life’s curve balls. Together they make a marvelous pair.
The Library is available for free digital reading with an Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscription or only $5.49 to purchase. I highly recommend it.
P.S. If you want to see a film that has a very similar, sweet friendship, I recommend Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, with Joan Plowright and Rupert Friend. Also wonderful.