A debut novel depicts the intertwined narratives of folks brought together by the lure of living in a beautiful old schoolhouse in a tiny Iowa town.
Andrea Hogan, a 58-year-old divorced mother, relocates to the town of Bentley, population 284, for a position at BGM High School teaching ninth-grade English. Retiring from her long career at the Legislative Service Bureau, she decides to finally pursue her dream of teaching. Trish Wilkins, a woman she befriended in college, connects her with the job, as she is also taking a position at BGM. The women each move into separate 600-square-foot, one-bedroom apartments at The Bentley School House, which has been restored and repurposed with the utmost care for historic detail. The building’s owner, Scott “Coach” Samuels, hopes to develop its multipurpose basement into a community center, as “ever since the grocery store closed, there just hasn’t been a decent place for folks to gather.” Andrea quickly learns that one of her new neighbors is the head of the BGM English Department, Richard Daniel Knight, a man she was romantically involved with for a short time in college. Recently divorced, Richard is a transplant from Mons, Belgium, and harbors a deep love of theater. He is overjoyed to reconnect with Andrea, and romantic tension builds between them throughout the story. When a giant tree falls on BGM and crushes the roof of the auditorium, Richard volunteers the cafeteria of The Bentley Schoolhouse to host the fall play. Soon, the tenants, including Oscar and Verna Lee Swenson, an elderly couple who decided to vacate their big farmhouse, rally together to help produce the play. As the engrossing narrative unfolds and the tenants of The Bentley Schoolhouse create community projects using their shared space, their relationships grow and interweave. Major themes explored by Hughes include new beginnings late in life, the benefits of downsizing, the importance of community, and the way like-minded people congregate to create their ideal vision of humanity. The novel is heartening, sometimes too much so, as there is often an absence of conflict to propel the plot. But, as the rekindling of romance between Richard and Andrea progresses, their interactions drive the narrative enough to keep readers engaged and happily turning pages.
A heartwarming slice-of-life tale for readers who enjoy romance and optimistic stories about idealistic communities in America’s heartland.