Wednesday, September 1, 2021

The Last Chance Library, by Freya Sampson

Berkley Publishing Grouup, ISBN 9780593201374, August 2021

June Jones has worked at her local library since her mother became ill. She's never left her home village, or had another job.

And since her mother died, she's been less active and outgoing than she was before. It's been years since she did anything after work but go home, and read the books her mother, the town's head librarian until her final illness forced her out of work, left behind her. There's also a large collection of knickknacks and tchotchkes that her mother loved to collect. Nothing has changed in the house since her mother died.

At the library, as the library assistant, she's liked and valued, but having never left the village even to attend university, she's never going to be the librarian/

But, June is happy. Isn't she?

Then crisis strikes. The local council is looking at cutting costs, and all the small local libraries in the county are potentially on the chopping block. This is a major crisis for the village, and other villages, and a disaster for June, whose whole life is the library. (This is, by the way, a real piece of bureaucratic idiocy that has been going on in the UK for some years now. Many local libraries have been closed or had their services severely cut. I'm omitting my rant on the subject. You're welcome.)

Soon the library regulars are organizing themselves into a save-the-library committee (although their name for it is more colorful), and they want to recruit June as the group secretary. She wants to join--not in such a high-profile role as secretary, because June is terminally shy in ways I somewhat understand. However, the head librarian, who was her mother's assistant, and friend, tells her that the council has said that any library employees who get involved or show support for the group will be terminated immediately. This is illegal, but June is not up for that kind of a fight.

She puzzles and hurts all the library regulars whom she has served so well, and who are, after all, trying to save her job along with the library.

What follows is June learning more and more about all the library regulars, reconnecting with old school friend Alex Chen, who is now a lawyer, and back in town to help out his aging father, and an unexpected degree of corruption, treachery, and intrigue behind the council's desire to close, in particular, this library. June, being quiet and inoffensive, and regarded as harmless, overhears things she shouldn't, and starts to discover strength and personal resources she didn't know she had. 

June also has to confront her grief and her refusal thus far to move on from her mother's death.

There's growth and personal development here, for June, and for many of the library regulars, and for the little community it supports. Great characters, great story, great insight in to human lives and values.

Highly recommended.

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

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