(first published as Book Review: South of Superior by Ellen Airgood on Blogcritics.)
Although I have lived in the U.S. for 23 years now, I’ve never had the chance or the money to explore the rest of the country and its various lands and wonders that make this country so great. I do watch a good number of travel documentary shows that give me a quick introduction to various lands I’ve never thought existed, but reading books with stories that set place in such places draw me in to that particular place, imagining myself being in that setting and experiencing the scenery as the story flowed through, page by page.
I found this fresh and rare little gem at the public library two weeks ago that goes by the name of South of Superior by small-town Michigan-based writer Ellen Airgood. At first glance, seeing the word “South” would automatically tell me that the setting would be somewhere in the Deep South, giving me something reminiscent of the simple and feel-good-type of novels such as Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café and Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees. But as I read the summary on the book’s jacket, I soon discovered that the title refers to the southern area of Lake Superior, which in short, the story would depict as small-town life way up north in the Great Lakes area.
The novel tells a story of a Chicago café waitress named Madeline Stone who was currently dissatisfied with her current city life. She received a letter for help from her late grandfather’s lifetime friend Gladys that triggered her to leave her current life altogether and travel 200 miles up north to her birthplace: a small (fictional) town of McAllister, Michigan. While taking care of Gladys’ arthritic sister Arbutus, Madeline finds herself being drawn back in to her past small-town life for answers to her complicated family roots, from her adopted mother Emmy, her biological mother Jackie Stone who abandoned her when she was an infant, and her late grandfather Joe who wouldn’t even take her in after her abandonment. Along the way, she meets and even gets involved with the different townsfolk in McAllister and its neighboring towns, from an endearing little boy who came to her care to an owner of a restaurant whom she falls in love with. In addition, she discovers places around her town that she was unfamiliar with and had strong ties and connections to her family.
The novel, though, started rather slow for me, and it took me until the middle of the book for me to finally recognize the feel of the setting and the characters. Despite that, the characters were very well-written and full of heart and the setting became so picturesque that it succeeded in taking me to a place I’ve never been. Airgood knew her roots real well and applied them to her story. South of Superior is a recommended novel for a good, laid-back read.