Summer Hours at the Robbers Library

The reclusive librarian of a "declining, flea-bitten" New Hampshire town, a mysterious stranger and an endearing adolescent sentenced to a summer of community service could have come together in a formulaic light read. But Sue Halpern (A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home) writes in layers, and these three protagonists of Summer Hours at the Robbers Library reveal deeper truths about themselves and contemporary life.

The novel opens with a memory, of Kit Jarvis and her boyfriend on a trajectory to marriage. But in the first chapter, June 7-13, 2010, it's apparent she came to Riverton alone. She works as a reference librarian and is now also in charge of Sunny, an adolescent carrying out her sentence for attempting to steal a dictionary. As they get acquainted, their stories surface: Kit's through imaginary conversations with a past therapist, and Sunny's as she reflects on her furtive parents and her transient, "no-schooling" life. By late June an attractive stranger named Rusty is monopolizing the library computer, and Kit, Sunny and the library staff are speculating about him. In time questions arise: What drove Kit to Riverton? Why are Sunny's parents evasive about their past? What is Rusty researching?

Sue Halpern cleverly structures the novel by weeks of the summer. The fun she has with character development is engaging; chapters are sometimes first-person and sometimes third-person, giving varied perspectives. She slowly reveals the ways Kit, Sunny and Rusty are resilient victims of personal and economic strife as they find comfort and a makeshift family together in the shelter of the Riverton Library. Literary quotes add to the ambience: Emily Dickinson, John Keats, Marianne Moore and others seem to offer advice from the stacks. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

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