Summer Hours at the Robbers Library
Sue Halpern’s Summer Hours at the Robbers Library caught my attention initially because of its title, and then, once I read the synopsis, I knew it was a book I absolutely had to read and review. As you might have guessed, I’m an avid reader, and I love when authors center their stories around a love of reading.
Kit loves living in the sleepy town of Riverton, New Hampshire. She’s the town’s head librarian, a job she views as pretty close to perfect. She is able to help book-lovers find just the right books and doesn’t have to fend off countless questions about the life she lived before moving to Riverton. In fact, Kit’s pretty certain no one knows about the scandal that drove her to walk away from everyone and everything she once held dear, and that’s just the way she likes it. Her life is peaceful now, and she’s intent on keeping it that way.
Then fifteen-year-old Sunny is caught attempting to steal a dictionary from a local bookstore and is sentenced to a summer of community service at the library. From the moment Kit and Sunny meet, each is inexplicably drawn to the other for reasons neither completely understands. It’s obvious to Kit that Sunny has the power to turn the peaceful life she’s so painstakingly built for herself upside-down, and yet, she’s powerless to walk away from the teenager who is obviously hiding secrets of her own.
Sunny lives an unconventional life with her parents just outside of Riverton. She doesn’t go to school, and her parents do everything they can to stay off the government’s radar. For her, a summer spent working in the library represents a bit of normalcy, something she’s secretly longed for since she was a young child. Sure, living off the land and failing to follow society’s rules might have been fun at first, but Sunny wants more now, and she has the feeling Kit is just the person to help her get it.
Slowly, Kit and Sunny begin to form a friendship of sorts, a friendship that will change them in ways both large and small, and, when Rusty, a drifter in search of clues to his family’s past, comes into town and begins spending his days at the library as well, the three form an unlikely trio. Together, Kit, Sunny, and Rusty begin to uncover what it really means to love another person more than you love yourself. As the summer passes, each will be forced to confront some ugly truths about their pasts in an attempt to create a brighter future for themselves and each other.
The story is told in alternating chapters from the point of view of each of the three main characters. It was sometimes hard to keep track of who was narrating, as the chapters aren’t numbered or marked in any clear way. Instead, the author uses snippets of poetry to clue readers into the fact that the narrator is changing, and as I’m not a poetry fan, the lines of verse were more of a distraction than anything else. From what I could tell, they had nothing to do with what was going on in the story, and it was as if they’d been chosen at random.
Fortunately, I was able to follow most things pretty well, once I figured out whose head I was in. The story unfolds at a leisurely pace, but it’s not at all boring. The characters are well-drawn, and Ms. Halpern has given each of them a compelling backstory which is revealed in bits and pieces as the novel progresses. There is also a delightful cast of supporting characters that I fell in love with pretty much from the beginning of the book. Each person in the story has a discernible part to play, and no one is there just as filler, a fact I greatly appreciated.
I love novels that explore the true meaning of family, and that’s exactly what this one does. Obviously, Kit, Sunny, Rusty and the rest of the library’s regulars aren’t related by blood, but they are one another’s family in a way flesh and blood relations can’t always manage to pull off. The genuine affection these characters feel for each other shines through on every page, and I honestly believe this is the novel’s greatest strength.
I was, however a bit disappointed by the ending, which feels a little rushed, and left me with quite a few questions about the futures of our three protagonists. I usually don’t mind a bit of ambiguity, but there was just too much of it here for my personal taste.
Summer Hours at the Robbers Library is a charming, feel-good novel that I’m happy to recommend. It’s not a perfect book, but it’s one that will warm the hearts of its readers in spite of its flaws.