Publisher, Date:
New York : Harper, An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2018.
464 pages ; 24 cm
Willa Knox has always prided herself on being the embodiment of responsibility for her family. Which is why it's so unnerving that she's arrived at middle age with nothing to show for her hard work and dedication but a stack of unpaid bills and an inherited brick home in Vineland, New Jersey, that is literally falling apart. The magazine where she worked has folded, and the college where her husband had tenure has closed. The dilapidated house is also home to her ailing and cantankerous Greek father-in-law and her two grown children: her stubborn, free-spirited daughter, Tig, and her dutiful debt-ridden, ivy educated son, Zeke, who has arrived with his unplanned baby in the wake of a life-shattering development. In an act of desperation, Willa begins to investigate the history of her home, hoping that the local historical preservation society might take an interest and provide funding for its direly needed repairs. Through her research into Vineland's past and its creation as a Utopian community, she discovers a kindred spirit from the 1880s, Thatcher Greenwood.
9780062684561 (hardcover)
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F Kin
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Author Notes
Barbara Kingsolver was born on April 8, 1955 in Annapolis, Maryland and grew up in Eastern Kentucky. As a child, Kingsolver used to beg her mother to tell her bedtime stories. She soon started to write stories and essays of her own, and at the age of nine, she began to keep a journal. After graduating with a degree in biology form De Pauw University in Indiana in 1977, Kingsolver pursued graduate studies in biology and ecology at the University of Arizona in Tucson. She earned her Master of Science degree in the early 1980s. <p> A position as a science writer for the University of Arizona soon led Kingsolver into feature writing for journals and newspapers. Her articles have appeared in a number of publications, including The Nation, The New York Times, and Smithsonian magazines. In 1985, she married a chemist, becoming pregnant the following year. During her pregnancy, Kingsolver suffered from insomnia. To ease her boredom when she couldn't sleep, she began writing fiction <p> Barbara Kingsolver's first fiction novel, The Bean Trees, published in 1988, is about a young woman who leaves rural Kentucky and finds herself living in urban Tucson. Since then, Kingsolver has written other novels, including Holding the Line, Homeland, and Pigs in Heaven. In 1995, after the publication of her essay collection High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never, Kingsolver was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from her alma mater, De Pauw University. Her latest works include The Lacuna and Flight Behavior. <p> Barbara's nonfiction book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle was written with her family. This is the true story of the family's adventures as they move to a farm in rural Virginia and vow to eat locally for one year. They grow their own vegetables, raise their own poultry and buy the rest of their food directly from farmers markets and other local sources. <p> (Bowker Author Biography)
Fiction/Biography Profile
Willa Knox (Female), Married, Mother, Prided herself on being responsible; going through midlife crisis; everything begins to fall apart; investigates history of her home in order to get money for needed repairs; finds a kindred spirit from the 1880s
Thatcher Greenwood (Male), Lived in the same house as Willa, but in the 1880s; faced similar challenges as Willa
Middle aged women
Midlife crisis
Home life
Historic preservation
Community life
New Jersey - Mid-Atlantic States (U.S.)
Time Period
2000s -- 21st century
1880s -- 19th century
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Trade Reviews

  Library Journal Review

Multi-award-winning Kingsolver's eighth novel (after Flight Behavior) tells two stories in alternating chapters, both taking place on the same residential lot in Vineland, NJ, but roughly 150 years apart. In the 1870s, science teacher Thatcher struggles with meeting the expectations of his socially ambitious wife while running afoul of school and city morality for teaching Darwinism and develops a connection with his next-door neighbor, naturalist Mary Treat. In the present day, journalist Willa tries to hold her family together, four generations of which are living in a house that is literally falling down around them, as they struggle with medical bills, tragedy, and long-buried conflict. In the historical story (Thatcher and his family are fictional, but other characters and plot elements are based on real people and events), Kingsolver finds parallels to our current political climate without being heavy-handed, conveying the frustration and despair of members of the professional middle class, who "did all the right things" but feel they are losing ground. VERDICT Kingsolver fans will find everything they want and expect here: compelling characters, social awareness, and a connection to the natural world. [See Prepub Alert, 4/9/18.]-Christine -DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

  Publishers Weekly Review

Kingsolver's meticulously observed, elegantly structured novel unites social commentary with gripping storytelling. Its two intertwined narratives are set in Vineland, a real New Jersey town built as a utopian community in the 1860s. In the first storyline, set in the present, the magazine Willa Knox edited and the college at which her husband, Iano Tavoularis, taught both fold at the same time. They find themselves responsible for Iano's ailing father and their single son's new baby. They hope the house they have inherited in Vineland will help rebuild their finances, but-riddled with structural problems too costly to repair-it slowly collapses around them. Destitute after decades of striving and stunned by the racist presidential candidate upending America's ideals, the couple feels bewildered by the future facing them. Researching the home's past in the hopes of finding grant-worthy historical significance, Willa becomes fascinated by science teacher Thatcher Greenwood and his neighbor, naturalist Mary Treat, one of whom may have lived on the property in the 1870s. In the second story line, which alternates with Willa's, Thatcher's home is unsound and irreparable, too. His deepening bond with Mary inspires him, but his support for radical ideas like those of Mary's correspondent Charles Darwin infuriates Vineland's repressive leadership, threatening Thatcher's job and marriage. Kingsolver (Flight Behavior) artfully interweaves fictional and historical figures (notably the remarkable Mary Treat) and gives each narrative its own mood and voice without compromising their underlying unity. Containing both a rich story and a provocative depiction of times that shake the shelter of familiar beliefs, this novel shows Kingsolver at the top of her game. (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

  Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Rather than looking to a dystopian near-future to address environmental concerns, as so many fiction writers have, Kingsolver (Flight Behavior, 2012) knits them right into the familiar lives of her ensnaring characters. In this exceptionally involving and rewarding novel, Kingsolver considers how our ways of living are threatened by the changing climate and our ever-increasing pressure on the biosphere, conducting a subtle, many-stranded inquiry into the concept of shelter within two story lines in two time frames, both anchored in Vineland, New Jersey. In the present, magazine editor Willa Knox inherits a house. This should have been a lifesaver, given that her magazine has shut down; the college at which her political-scientist husband, Iano, finally earned tenure has closed; his severely ill and disabled father, Nick, is living with them; and their adult children need help. Tig (short for Antigone), an Occupy Wall Street alum, has reappeared without warning after a sojourn in Cuba. Zeke, whose Harvard degree has left him in overwhelming debt, is desperate for help with his newborn, motherless son. But the gift house is a hopelessly disintegrating wreck. With nearly no income, torturously inadequate and confounding health insurance, and bewilderment over how a hardworking middle-class family could find itself in a catastrophic economic crisis, Willa, smart and persistent, funny and loyal, visits the Vineland Historical Society with the long-shot hope that their crumbling house is of historical significance. Readers, meanwhile, meet Thatcher Greenwood, newly married and moved into a home in Vineland, a cultist, alcohol-free community recently built by Captain Charles Landis in the wake of the Civil War. There Thatcher, responsible for his pretty wife, her smart and unconventional younger sister, and their status-seeking mother, is appalled to find that their house has been so shoddily constructed it is in danger of collapse. Thatcher fears that his position as Vineland's high-school science teacher is equally precarious, given his employer's staunch opposition to Darwin's theory of natural selection, which Thatcher has every intention of teaching. And why is their neighbor, Mrs. Treat, lying on the ground? Kingsolver alternates between Willa's droll reflections on her ever-worsening predicament, and Thatcher's on his, subtly linking their equally compelling, alternating narratives with a repeated phrase or echoed thought, a lovely poetic device that gently punctuates the parallels between these two times of uncertainty. As Willa thinks about how the need to shelter her family never lifted its weight from her shoulders, she shudders in response to the alarming bombast of the brazenly unqualified Republican presidential candidate (who remains unnamed), whom Nick supports, leading to musings over how we find shelter under the rule of law and in pursuit of truth. As for Thatcher, he discovers an ally in Mary Treat (who, it turns out, was lying down in order to observe ants in her yard). She is a renowned naturalist, popular-science writer, and valued correspondent of Charles Darwin's with a house full of carnivorous plants and large glass jars in which spiders are building their homes. As Thatcher battles with the powers that be over their resistance to Darwin's findings, Kingsolver explores the ways we shelter within our beliefs, however erroneous, when we feel threatened by new knowledge and perspectives. Becoming unsheltered, Kingsolver ponders, is to be imperiled in some ways and liberated in others. There is much here to delight in and think about while reveling in Kingsolver's vital characters, quicksilver dialogue, intimate moments, dramatic showdowns, and lushly realized milieus. Her delectable portrait of the real-life Mary Treat (1830-1923) places Unsheltered on a growing list of outstanding novels about underappreciated women scientists, including Richard Bausch's Hello to the Cannibals (2002), Tracy Chevalier's Remarkable Creatures (2010), Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things (2013), Amy Brill's The Movement of Stars (2013), Marie Benedict's The Other Einstein (2016), and Andromeda Romano-Lax's Behave (2016). Ultimately, in this enveloping, tender, witty, and awakening novel of love and trauma, family and survival, moral dilemmas and intellectual challenges, social failings and environmental disaster, Kingsolver insightfully and valiantly celebrates life's adaptability and resilience, which includes humankind's capacity for learning, courage, change, and progress.--Donna Seaman Copyright 2018 Booklist

  Kirkus Review

Alternating between two centuries, Kingsolver (Flight Behavior, 2012, etc.) examines the personal and social shocks that ensue when people's assumptions about the world and their place in it are challenged.The magazine Willa Knox worked for went broke, and so did the college where her husband, Iano, had tenure, destroying the market value of their Virginia home, which stood on college land. They should be grateful to have inherited a house in Vineland, New Jersey, just a half-hour commute from Iano's new, non-tenured one-year gig, except it's falling apart, and they have been abruptly saddled with son Zeke's infant after his girlfriend commits suicide. In the same town during Ulysses Grant's presidency, science teacher Thatcher Greenwood is also grappling with a house he can't afford to repair as well as a headmaster hostile to his wish to discuss Darwin's theory of evolution with his students and a young wife interested only in social climbing. While Willa strives to understand how her comfortable middle-class life could have vanished overnight, her 26-year-old daughter, Tig, matter-of-factly sees both her mother's disbelief and her Greek-immigrant grandfather Nick's racist diatribes and hearty approval of presidential candidate Donald Trump as symptoms of a dying culture of entitlement and unbridled consumption. Lest this all sound schematic, Kingsolver has enfolded her political themes in two dramas of family conflict with full-bodied characters, including Mary Treat, a real-life 19th-century biologist enlisted here as the fictional friend and intellectual support of beleaguered Thatcher. Sexy, mildly feckless Iano and Thatcher's feisty sister-in-law, Polly, are particularly well-drawn subsidiary figures, and Willa's doubts and confusion make her the appealing center of the 21st-century story. The paired conclusions, although hardly cheerful, see hope in the indomitable human instinct for survival. Nonetheless, the words that haunt are Tig's judgment on blinkered America: "All the rules have changed and it's hard to watch people keep carrying on just the same, like it's business as usual."As always, Kingsolver gives readers plenty to think about. Her warm humanism coupled with an unabashed point of view make her a fine 21st-century exponent of the honorable tradition of politically engaged fiction. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
<p>New York Times bestseller</p> <p>The New York Times bestselling author of Flight Behavior, The Lacuna, and The Poisonwood Bible and recipient of numerous literary awards--including the National Humanities Medal, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and the Orange Prize--returns with a timely novel that interweaves past and present to explore the human capacity for resiliency and compassion in times of great upheaval.</p> <p>How could two hardworking people do everything right in life, a woman asks, and end up destitute? Willa Knox and her husband followed all the rules as responsible parents and professionals, and have nothing to show for it but debts and an inherited brick house that is falling apart. The magazine where Willa worked has folded; the college where her husband had tenure has closed. Their dubious shelter is also the only option for a disabled father-in-law and an exasperating, free-spirited daughter. When the family's one success story, an Ivy-educated son, is uprooted by tragedy he seems likely to join them, with dark complications of his own.</p> <p>In another time, a troubled husband and public servant asks, How can a man tell the truth, and be reviled for it? A science teacher with a passion for honest investigation, Thatcher Greenwood finds himself under siege: his employer forbids him to speak of the exciting work just published by Charles Darwin. His young bride and social-climbing mother-in-law bristle at the risk of scandal, and dismiss his worries that their elegant house is unsound. In a village ostensibly founded as a benevolent Utopia, Thatcher wants only to honor his duties, but his friendships with a woman scientist and a renegade newspaper editor threaten to draw him into a vendetta with the town's powerful men.</p> <p>Unsheltered is the compulsively readable story of two families, in two centuries, who live at the corner of Sixth and Plum in Vineland, New Jersey, navigating what seems to be the end of the world as they know it. With history as their tantalizing canvas, these characters paint a startlingly relevant portrait of life in precarious times when the foundations of the past have failed to prepare us for the future.</p>
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