The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Dial Press, a Division of Random House, Inc., 2008. ISBN 978-0-385-34099-1.
Reviewed by Laura Strathman Hulka
Posted on 09/17/2008

Fiction: Historical; Fiction: Mainstream

This is one of the rare books whose hype, I believe, is justified. Although its roots are unassuming, the novel moved me to both laughter and tears. The characters are believable, the setting is charming, and the history real. The historical subplot is great, even if the reader is unfamiliar, as I was, with the history of the German occupation of the Channel Islands during the Second World War

January 1946 sees writer Juliet Ashton recovering with the rest of London from World War II. While searching for a new writing project, she is pleasantly surprised by a letter from Guernsey. A resident there has come across her name in a book she once owned. The letter sets off a chain of events that drew me into the tale. Dawsey Adams, the letter-writer, is intelligent and full of literary curiosity. From that first letter, I wanted to get to know him better.

Before long, Juliet is bound for Guernsey to meet Dawsey, and the rest of his reading group, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Each step of her journey is delineated in her letters to and from friends back in London and the members of the Society in Guernsey. The letter-writing facet of the book reminded me of Helen Hanff's book, 84, Charing Cross Road. Why do modern readers find such books so lovely to read and devour in one sitting? Perhaps it is because e-mail, cell phones and other modern technology have replaced old-fashioned letter writing. I wanted to sit down and put pen to paper rather than type another e-mail!

Juliet finds much to enjoy in her time on the island. She meets the members of the Society, and butts heads with the irascible naysayers who have nothing good to say about the years of the Occupation. Is the outgoing and precocious Kit the daughter of a German Officer? Who there might have been guilty of aiding and abetting the enemy? What happened to Kit's mother, who disappeared not long after bringing Kit into the world? The personal tales interwoven in the fabric of the lives of residents of this island seem so real, and so three-dimensional, that I wanted to write immediately and request membership in the Society. As Juliet learns more about the war years on Guernsey, she becomes enamored of the people and the gentle rhythm she has found there. She falls in love with Kit and her story, as well as finding a deep and abiding love of her own. Along the way, I came to appreciate Juliet's personality (she once broke up with a fiancé because he took all of her books out of her bookcases and replaced them with his sports trophies). I also came to realize how important writing and books are in my life. This book has taken up residence on my bookshelf of "keepers." I will read it again, taking pleasure in the writing, and wishing once again that I could meet Dawsey and Juliet off the written page.

Mary Ann Shaffer was born in Martinsburg, West Virginia, in 1934. Her career included libraries, bookstores (including the renowned Book Passage), and publishing, but her life-long dream was to "write a book that someone would like enough to publish." Though she did not live to see it, her dream has been realized in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Visit the book's website. Annie Barrows, whose career also included libraries, bookstores, and publishing, is the author of the Ivy and Bean series for children and The Magic Half. Visit her website.

(See other reviews of this book, here and here)

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