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Book review: Unsheltered — by Barbara Kingsolver

(Harper)
In 2016, Willa Knox and her family move into a house they inherited in Vineland, N.J. only to discover that the house is literally falling down around them. In 1874, Thatcher Greenwood and his family move back into the house his father-in-law built in Vineland, N.J., only to learn that the house is in such terrible disrepair that it is coming apart at the seams. Told in alternating chapters, with the house as a shared metaphor, Kingsolver’s new novel is a meditation on how we find shelter during unsettling times. As the presidential election looms in 2016, we follow the story of Willa’s family as they try to adjust to the cultural changes affecting their lives while taking care of an ailing parent and a new baby. In the 1870s, we are introduced to Thatcher’s neighbor, real-life botanist Mary Treat, whose botanical research influenced the work of Charles Darwin and Asa Gray. In befriending Mary Treat, Thatcher lands in the middle of the cultural conflict about Darwin’s radical new ideas. Kingsolver mixes history, botany and politics in this moving novel (along with the occasionally heavy-handed political message). A compelling story of two different time periods, “Sheltered” will leave you with a lot to think about.
— Reviewed by Amy Graham of The Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury.
 
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