Ellen Airgood’s stunning debut, South of Superior, is a book you won’t want to miss. Madeline Stone feels very alone in the world after her adoptive mother passes away, so when she gets a letter in the mail from her biological grandfather’s girlfriend Gladys asking if she’d be willing to move to a small town in Michigan to help care for her sister Arbutus, Madeline decides to go with it. She finds herself in tiny McAllister, on the coast of Lake Superior. As Madeline settles in, she slowly becomes acquainted with the town’s inhabitants and their way of life, and she starts to feel more and more like a local herself. Even though most of the people in McAllister have little or no money, they teach Madeline that happiness can come from the most unexpected places.
South of Superior is absolutely beautiful, and I had a really hard time planning this review because I know I won’t do the book justice. Airgood’s writing is fantastic (I can’t believe this is her debut novel!) and I found myself lost in her descriptions. She captures the small town and its inhabitants perfectly and I felt like I was right there with them. It actually made me want to move to a small little town in Michigan because it felt like home. I connected right away with the characters too, especially Gladys, Arbutus, and my favorite, Mary. Mary and Gladys especially are very tough women who have been through a lot. They may not seem very likeable, but the reader still loves them. They grew up in hard times, and those hardships made them who they are.
There was a little subplot where Madeline finds out about her own family and her past. She was abandoned as a baby and all her life has felt extreme anger toward the family that left her behind. However, as the story progresses and she learns more and more about her family and their own hardships, she starts to accept and even sympathize with them. She struggles with this realization.
South of Superior paints a portrait of life’s ups and downs. I love it because nothing is magically resolved. Instead, throughout the story, the characters are just trekking through life, just trying to make ends meet. However, there is hope, even if there isn’t money. This story is heartwarming but not sugarcoated. Life is very hard for these people, but they accept their lives and all the twists and turns that life brings. Madeline has to learn this herself-to accept what she has and to be happy and grateful for what she has, instead of dwelling on things she can’t change.
This is a must read and I can’t recommend it enough. It made me feel really warm inside and taught me a really important lesson about accepting what life throws at you, which I was really needing because I’ve been letting things that are out of my control let me down. So thank you Ellen Airgood for helping me find my new mantra, “What you have to do here, you have to accept.”
Some favorite quotes: (my quotes are from the ARC that I received and may have been changed before publishing the final copy. I’ll update when I have the time to go to the bookstore and find the nice new hardcover copy.)
–Madeline felt as though hole had opened in the fabric of her fledgling life here; it must’ve felt the same way to Greyson. But it was a hole she’d just have to figure out how to mend, or jump over, or live with. They both would.
-She stared at her feet. And then she said, “What you have to do here, you have to accept. You have to-lay down before the way things are.”
Madeline went still, her hands at rest in the pan. “I’m not sure what you mean.”
“If you want to have things your way, the way you want them, you don’t want to stay here. That’s not how it is. But if you can accept the way things are, well then.”
South of Superior by Ellen Airgood is out today from Riverhead Books! Go get yourself a copy and let me know what you think!
Title: South of Superior
Author: Ellen Airgood
Date of Publication: June 9th, 2011
Number of Pages: 384
Source: ARC won from LibraryThing.com