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Sandra Scofield
Author
Little Ships: A Novel
A mother dies suddenly of a toe infection. An addicted father falls apart. Two daughters, 12 and 13, are adrift. They move into the father's parents' home, and their two grandmothers vie for control of the girls' new lives. As the future opens (sometimes frighteningly) for the girls, the past impinges, too, and by summer, secrets are revealed, surprising choices are made, and a future opens wide.
Reviews
This incisive, richly emotional novel finds Scofield (author of Gringa) surveying, with scrupulous prose, the aftermath of a family tragedy—and the grandmother, aged 59 and ready to start thinking about retirement, called upon to hold it all together for three generations’ worth of her people. After a vivid prologue of first love sparking, the story opens with an ending: the sudden death of Karin, the wife of Nick and mother of adolescents Tilde and Juni. In the aftermath, stoned Nick is even more of a wreck than usual, and his mother, Eleanor, steps in to manage everything that must be seen to, including taking in Tilde and Juni, homeschooled kids who, among other upheavals, will now be facing their first days at an Oregon public school. Eleanor hasn’t spent significant time with these kids, who feel closer to Karin’s parents.

Scofield deftly pins down the complexities of contemporary family life, demonstrating a keen understanding of the ways kids and adults alike shut down or distance themselves as a protection from pain, uncertainty, and loneliness, even when surrounded by those who love them. Eleanor, of course, doesn’t have the luxury of doing that, as even before Karin’s death she is already enduring other travails at home: the continual presence of her daughter, Alison, living there with her own daughter, and the painful absence of Walter, Eleanor’s husband, who after an argument, has at least temporarily moved out.

Scofield renders each interaction and relationship with rare precision, power, and empathy, even as Eleanor herself must bull ahead through, in the face of Juni’s resistance to her love and Nick’s eagerness to put his responsibilities on her. Like life itself, the story continually surprises even as developments feel in hindsight inevitable. Scofield’s moves and illuminates as she lays bare these characters’ hearts—and as Eleanor strives to organize these wounded souls who can’t always articulate their needs into a nourishing, non-traditional family.

Takeaway: Stellar novel of a grandmother holding a complex family together after tragedy.

Comparable Titles: Lucy Ellman’s Ducks, Newburyport, Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

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