This is book #20 in the Elm Creek Quilts series. I've read most (and reviewed many) of the others, and got on the wait list for this one at my local public library once its publication date was announced. I came up in the queue right before Thanksgiving, which was perfect timing, both for me to read it, and because it ties in with the subject of the book.
Set during the week after Thanksgiving, the Elm Creek Quilt Camp provides a free week at Elm Creek Manor, "Quiltsgiving," if the participants agree to make and donate a quilt for Project Linus, a real organization that provides homemade blankets to children in need.
Some of the old favorites from the contemporary strand of Elm Creek novels are here--Sylvia, Sarah, and Gretchen in particular--but the book is mostly the stories of five of the Quiltsgiving participants. Linnea, a public librarian in California, is having her annual vacation with her sister Mona* at the Manor this year. Michaela is a college student with a broken leg, doing her required community service. Jocelyn is a teacher, a young widow and mother sent to the camp as a reward by the parents of the "Imagination Quest" team she's coached. Pauline is a member of a prestigious quilting group, but here at Quiltsgiving rather than at her own group's retreat. And Karen is a quilt shop clerk who had previously been a finalist for a teaching position at Elm Creek Manor - but had a disastrous interview. Chiaverini uses the events and activities of the week at Quiltsgiving to tie together otherwise unrelated chapters on the backstories of these five women and what brought them to Quiltsgiving.
Being a librarian, I could really relate to Linnea's story of a battle to keep the local public library open, in the face of a budget deficit, book banners, and people who think we don't need libraries any more because "everything we could possibly want to read is online." (page 146)
I also enjoyed the story of teacher Jocelyn, who takes over coaching her husband's and daughters' "Imagination Quest" team after his untimely death in an accident. "Imagination Quest" is very obviously modeled after Destination ImagiNation and/or Odyssey of the Mind, two creative problem-solving team competitions in which I and my offspring were quite involved in school. It reads like Chiaverini has also been involved in the program with her sons, as she nails the descriptions of the programs and of some of their problems with cheating (I was a judge one year at a regional tournament).
Karen's story talks about an interesting problem, that of people who "shop" in brick-and-mortar stores, checking out products, then ordering them cheaper online. It's also interesting to read how Karen deals with her rejection by the Elm Creek Quilters and comes to find her own place in the world.
I was intrigued by Michaela's broken leg from the beginning of the book, not explained until her story is told. Her goal in college was to be a cheerleader - not a particularly worthy goal in my opinion. However, her determination and focus are admirable, as is her acceptance and ability to set a new goal when her attempt to challenge a tradition at her university is thwarted by an "accident" that may have not been an accident.
The only story I didn't particularly care for was the first one told, that of Pauline, the member of the exclusive quilting group with a lot of internal squabbles. It just wasn't especially interesting to me.
The final chapter of the book tells briefly what happened to each of these quilters after Quiltsgiving. *Note: For some reason, there is no story for Mona, who is a state government employee and union official dealing with attempts by the government to abolish collective bargaining rights. Chiaverini lives in Wisconsin, which recently dealt with such issues, and perhaps this hit just a little too close to home.
This was a nice, easy read, perfect for the holidays. I have been surprised to see some online reviews taking Chiaverini to task for (in the reviewers' opinions) expressing her "political" views. It would not surprise me if these are the same people who don't like the historical fiction books in the series (which are my favorites), and the ones who complain when the stories aren't set at Elm Creek Manor or don't focus entirely on the original Elm Creek Quilters. There's just no pleasing some "fans."
© Amanda Pape - 2012
[This book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]