Life is going quite well for Esme Garland, who has relocated from England to attend Columbia University on a scholarship. She is nestled into the perfect tiny apartment, delights in the energy and charm of New York City, and is in a relationship with Mitchell van Leuven. Mitchell is handsome, suave and brilliant; best of all, he doesn’t seem to notice that Esme is not at all in his league.
With her life on the best track imaginable, it’s surprising that she awakens one morning with the uneasy feeling that she might be in some kind of a mess. She can’t quite put her finger on the source of that discomfort, but it is definitely present all the same. She will be meeting Mitchell later on, but now she whiles away some time in one of her favorite discoveries in her adopted city. It’s a tiny, rundown, jam-packed bookstore called The Owl, named after a stuffed owl that perches on a tree branch, seeming to watch over the comings and goings of customers. Esme has spent enough time in this haven to know the name of the owner --- tall, bent George, who wears homespun and eats organic.
"You know the kinds of books you cannot wait to return to? The ones that transform Real Life into just a rude interruption in your lovely reading time? Well, this is one of those books. Reading it is absolute pure delight."
This day, Esme enjoys chatting with George and his employee, Luke. Yet she doesn’t feel she can linger; that itchy, nervous sensation that something is not quite right makes her too restless to browse. She heads off through Central Park, meandering through an art gallery before meeting Mitchell at a diner. After she inhales her matzoh-ball soup, she is still starving. Mitchell refuses to share, saying it’s not good hygiene, so she orders another bowl. Glowing with happiness after he insinuates that he’s crazily in love with her, Esme babbles on about how hungry she has been lately. Mid-sentence, an earth-shattering thought occurs to her: “I am pregnant.” She can’t tell Mitchell; they haven’t been dating long. Besides, she tells herself, she is surely just frightening herself for no reason, as she has had none of the usual signs of pregnancy.
At home, she is aghast when the pregnancy test she has picked up reveals the truth: she is, indeed, expecting. After a doctor confirms the positive result, she has decisions to make, including if she should even tell Mitchell. Finally, she decides she must. But before she can give him the news, he breaks up with her --- in the most devastating, hurtful way imaginable. Esme suddenly feels unbearably alone and lonely.
After agonizing, she arrives at a decision about her path, but she will need much more money to put her plan into action. She must find a job and cannot dwell on her agony over Mitchell. Happily, she discovers that The Owl is looking for help. Although confessing that it would be illegal for her to be working in the United States, that she has no experience and that she is also pregnant, George hires her. She finds herself at home quickly with her co-workers and the customers. However, there are many twists and bumps ahead for Esme as she begins this next phase of her life.
You know the kinds of books you cannot wait to return to? The ones that transform Real Life into just a rude interruption in your lovely reading time? Well, this is one of those books. Reading it is absolute pure delight. The plot line is not startlingly original, and yet author Deborah Meyler transforms it into a heartwarming (sometimes heartbreaking), frequently hilarious and yet thought-provoking page-turner as endearing Esme confides her tale.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on August 23, 2013