‘Greetings from Nowhere’ speaks to young readers

A cast of characters assemble at a down-and-out motel and find unexpected joys.

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The Sleepy Time Motel has seen better days. But Aggie’s beloved Harold has died and it’s been three months since the last visitors signed the register. So even though it’s breaking Aggie’s heart, she’s put her Shawnee Gap, N.C., motel in the heart of the Smoky Mountains, up for sale.

Greetings from Nowhere, Barbara O’Connor’s new novel, takes three kids with little in common except for the fact that they land at the Sleepy Time at the same moment, mixes them with a sad old woman and a cat named Ugly, and delivers a story that sparkles.

Willow’s heart pines for her mama who’s up and left her and her dad with a backyard full of weeds. But when Willow’s dad tells her that they’re going to find a new life, she’s not the least bit interested in starting over in – of all places – a motel in the Smoky Mountains.

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Not far from the motel, Kirby Tanner and his mother are on their way to what his perfect brother calls a “bad-boy school.” Kirby’s mom hopes the new school will whip Kirby into shape. “This is your last chance,” she tells him. “You mess up this time, you ain’t coming back to my house.” But then their car breaks down and Kirby would just as soon stay at the rundown motel in the middle of nowhere, if only he could sit still for five minutes and stop pocketing bubble gum and postcards.

Although 10-year-old Loretta was adopted by two adoring parents, she misses the birth mother she will never know. When she receives a mysterious mailing, she learns that her birth mother has died. Included in the package is a charm bracelet. One of the charms is a bear holding a Great Smoky Mountains sign. On a whim, Loretta’s family decides to visit the places each charm represents. First stop, Sleepy Time Motel.

Aggie and her young guests at the down-at-the-heels motel tell their stories in alternating chapters. Fans of O’Connor’s many award-winning books (including “How To Steal a Dog”) will find “Greetings from Nowhere” endearing, poignant, and even funny.

In the end, the Sleepy Time Motel – clogged drains, unpaid bills, and all – gets a reprieve. Willow’s dad musters the ragtag bunch of guests to make the place shine. In the salvation of the motel, readers will come to realize that everyone has something worth paying attention to, if you dig deep enough.

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