Thursday, May 12, 2022

Freya Sampson - The Last Chance Library

June Jones emerges from her shell to fight for her beloved local library, and through the efforts and support of an eclectic group of library patrons, she discovers life-changing friendships along the way.
Lonely librarian June Jones has never left the sleepy English village where she grew up. Shy and reclusive, the thirty-year-old would rather spend her time buried in books than venture out into the world. But when her library is threatened with closure, June is forced to emerge from behind the shelves to save the heart of her community and the place that holds the dearest memories of her mother.
Joining a band of eccentric yet dedicated locals in a campaign to keep the library, June opens herself up to other people for the first time since her mother died. It just so happens that her old school friend Alex Chen is back in town and willing to lend a helping hand. The kindhearted lawyer's feelings for her are obvious to everyone but June, who won't believe that anyone could ever care for her in that way.
To save the place and the books that mean so much to her, June must finally make some changes to her life. For once, she's determined not to go down without a fight. And maybe, in fighting for her cherished library, June can save herself, too.

Comment: Since, as it happens with so many other readers, I like books about books or about bookstores or libraries, this had to go into the pile and this month I agreed to read it with a friend.

In this book we meet assistant librarian June Jones, a very shy and introverted heroine who loves her job but isn't too keen on the most public aspects of it, like reading for the little ones, for instance. Her life is pretty basic and quiet, and she loves to remember her mother, who died two years ago, as the best role model she could have, but she knows she isn't as confident or bubbly as she was. Things have to change when the council publishes an information on several libraries which will be closed and replaced by a bookmobile. The beloved library of so many patrons is a heaven for many, the only place where they feel they have the help they need, and many will do their best to save the library from closing, but this means work, effort and risks June doesn't feel ready to face. Or will she finally learn to live a more daring life?

As a whole, I liked this novel. How not to, when so much on books and the world of libraries is mentioned and I tend to like these themes? I think there is something very special about libraries - I love to visit mine and bring books, even though I have plenty of my own and keep buying - especially when one thinks those services are so often free and what isn't, can be at a very symbolic price.

The heroine of this book is shy, slightly introverted and while reading I confess I saw myself on many of her choices, namely the one where she prefers to stay home reading instead of doing social activities or be in the middle of large groups. However, I also think the author went a step too far in making her too shy, in the sense that work related things, while adjustable to our personalities, sometimes just have to be done. I also think that June is the embodiment of many real life women, but the way she was portrayed almost reached caricature level and I saw some readers describe her a s "too mousy" and, inf act, some things she does are a little exaggerated.

However, I'd accept all this and even appreciate a self journey or a transformation of June into someone more confident or more aware of her own worth - as these types of novels tend to aim for - if the rest had been as balanced, but in my opinion, the several elements put together didn't make for such an incredible story after all. June does become a more assertive person, she even finds a sort of romantic interest but her change seemed a little forced because of the library problems and not because she truly feel, at first, she has to. I wanted her change to be more from within and not just because of what others say or how circumstances make her feel more daring.

The library issues are, sadly, quite realistic. Libraries everywhere, especially those who depend on certain entities for funding, always seem to reach a point where the expenses are much higher than any profit, even if that is only on attendance. I suppose this should not be a surprise, and I can't understand why this isn't obvious from the start, but if the idea is to create a public service which operates mostly for free, it's to be expected. I know, I know, a rather oversimplified way of seeing it...

The idea in this book is, as with many, to prove how necessary the library is for those who use it and although the choices here aren't presented in a very.... professional way (there's a stripper at some point...), I applauded when a group of people united efforts to call attention to what was happening. I think the final solution was a bit too fairy tale like - even if it could hypothetically happen - but in relation to how this affected June's life, i think it was a bit more interesting.

I think the idea of this story was its true value. I feel the characters, although captivating on their own, weren't fleshed out enough for this to reach the emotional level I assume the author went for. Everyone said and did the right/funny/quirky things they had to, but there was a lack of complexity to them, in the sense we would be reading and feeling the actual emotions they went through. I suppose I wanted more intensity in some of their interactions, more characterization so I could be even more interested in them. A bit more romance or a more obvious focus on sexual and emotional tension would also have helped me to root for the main couple. Their romance was a little meh, even bearing in mind June's inexperience in romantic relationships.

All things considered, this wasn't bad but it could have been a lot better too.
Grade: 6/10

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