The Librarian of Boone's Hollow
The publisher of The Librarian of Boone’s Hollow classifies this book as a romance, but I don’t agree with this choice. Although love does develop between two of the characters, the dominant story follows the struggles, dreams, and choices of three people living during the Great Depression, as well as the people who surround them, and shows how God’s moral lessons can influence daily living as well as life’s journey.
University junior Adelaide Cowherd is forced to leave the Education program at the University of Kentucky when her family’s finances run out. A temporary, part-time job at the local library has allowed her to maintain her room in the dormitory until the end of the semester, but after that, she’ll need a place to stay and a job. A colleague at the library offers her a room until she can get settled, but Addie learns from the library director that there will be no job for her after this semester. The director suggests that Addie try the Want Ads in the Lexington Herald. Addie waits in the library for a man to finish with the paper but when she looks, the Want Ads section has been torn out.
Emmett Tharp is a senior at UK and looks forward to graduation. Hailing from the rural town of Boone’s Hollow where the largest employer is the coal mining operation, Emmett knows that employment is essential. His first search is in the Lexington Herald and finding a few possibilities, he rips the page out to take with him. His conscience later pricks him to return the page, but its crumpled condition makes the information unusable. For distraction, he attends the year-end fraternity bonfire and runs into Addie, who is attending with a friend and not all that happy to meet the man who ripped the ads from the paper. The meeting is brief, and acknowledging that they will never see each other again, they part.
Like Emmett, Bettina Webber grew up in Boone’s Hollow, but her reading disability has led her to consider herself slow and stupid. Her alcoholic father certainly thinks she is, and his regular beatings remind her of her place as his housekeeper. Bettina has been sweet on Emmett for years and eagerly awaits his return from college so they can marry and free her from her father’s house. The fantasy future she has built sustains her, and while she waits, she works as a packhorse librarian, delivering books to community members from the back of a mule.
When Addie accepts an offer to replace one of the packhorse librarians in Boone’s Hollow, these three characters are now in the same locale, brought together by fate and necessity.
The book’s title is somewhat misleading since there are several librarians in the story – the woman who runs the WPA library program in Boone’s Hollow, Emmett – who eventually replaces the woman as head of the program – and the packhorse librarians, who make the deliveries. From the title, I had expected Addie to appear in a leading role as librarian in the small town and was disappointed in the actuality of her position.
The author provides an accurate and sympathetic portrayal of life in rural Kentucky during the Great Depression. The characters are well-drawn and memorable, and I got good visual images of the challenges they faced in economic disaster. Several lessons from God’s Word are illustrated through the characters’ actions, the most prominent being The Golden Rule – treat others, no matter their station, as you wish to be treated.
However, the novel lacks romantic tension, and I never in any doubt that the couple would get together in the end. Although the characters adapt admirably to their circumstances, their personalities and moral stances are fixed at the beginning of the story and remain steady throughout the narrative. There is little growth or struggle against internal dilemmas to give the story emotional power.
For readers looking for historical fiction with a solid view of the period and a loving Christian message, this is a pleasant read. But regrettably, The Librarian of Boone’s Hollow lacks the romantic elements and emotional depth to receive my full recommendation.