“The simplest thing would be to tear it down,” the man said. “The house is a shambles.”


The Knox-Tavoularis family has recently arrived in Vineland, New Jersey and matriarch, Willa, has just received the news that their house is a shambles, and shambles that may not survive the year. The family’s life is full of misfortune, a stream of dead relatives, failed attempts at tenure and now their last hope is a house left to them by Willa’s aunt and it’s literally falling apart around them. Back in the 1800s, High School science teacher Thatcher is struggling to fit in. In Vineland, Religion and Science are in direct conflict and Darwinism is the sticking point. Thankfully, Thatcher finds friendship in the strange, wildly intelligent and delightful Mrs Treat. And it’s Mrs Treat Willa hopes will save her house from ruin.

“Today’s problems can’t be solved by today’s people.”

Unsheltered weaves historical and modern day narrative well and Kingsolver’s use of the last few words of each chapter to title the next is a nice touch. Within both timelines, Kingsolver explores the tensions between old and new, between generations, between innovations and tradition. Kingsolver captures a wide range of different characters whose attitudes stand the test of time, with younger characters seeking radical new approaches, older characters yearning for the days gone by and those who have wildly different priorities leaving them unable, or unwilling, to engage in politics. All the while, Willa is left to wonder whether Mary Treat really did live in her house, and whether a historical society will step in to save it. With the help of the eccentric Christopher, Willa delves into Vineland’s history.

In a book full of conflict, the most striking character is that of the Pine Barrens, a local beauty spot recently battered by storms and the location in which Willa, Thatcher and Mrs Treat find peace in their otherwise tumultuous lives.  Ultimately, it is nature that remains steadfast through political unrest and personal anxieties.

A book to frustrate you, calm you, and inspire you Unsheltered is the perfect accompaniment to those stormy days of Summer.

You can grab yourself a copy here: Unsheltered