The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

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Note: I occasionally accept review copies from the publisher. Posts written from review copies are labeled. All opinions are my own. Posts may contain affiliate links. I may receive compensation for any purchased items.

My sister and I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows at the same time this summer. We both enjoyed it, although we both found some aspects of it a bit disappointing. We both answered the same questions for this review. It turns out we thought similar things!

Note that there may be some “spoilers.” I’ve tried to note where.

What were your first impressions?

Rebecca: I wasn’t crazy about the letters format at first. I think I would have preferred to jump right in to a story. But I had enjoyed Ella Minnow Pea (reviewed here) so I thought I’d persevere. I loved the emphasis on books from the start.

Jenny:  I was intrigued by the title, which made me pick it up.  My first impressions were that pen and ink correspondence is a lost art.  The formality of writing a letter, and using formal and respectful language in a letter made me wish for simpler, more respectful times.  I enjoyed the letter-writing format.

What did you like most?

Rebecca: I loved learning about Guernsey, and I loved the book talk. I didn’t know anything about the Channel Islands (did I even know they exist?) and I especially didn’t know much about World War II on the home front, so it was an educational experience. Also, there were so many great quotes about books and the influence in our lives. It was inspiring to me. Now I want to find a collection of Charles Lamb’s poetry and Seneca’s writings. Sample quote about book talk: “That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book.  It’s geometrically progressive – all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.” (quote found on Bermudaonion’s review. I seriously couldn’t find it again in the book!)

Jenny: The book also showed me that face to face friendship, hard work, sacrifice, and social etiquette were also lost arts.  I enjoyed that the book was witty and light while dealing with a heavy subject.

What didn’t you like?

Rebecca: I felt the tone shifted in the second part of the book. It became more action driven, and I missed talk about books as a survival mechanism. I also didn’t feel like I got to know any of the characters really well as it went on; while the letter format made it interesting, it was hard to get to know the people. Finally, every letter sounded the same: I wasn’t convinced that different people were writing them.

Jenny: While I enjoyed the letter writing format, it became clear that each “writer” seemed to have the same writing style and voice, namely Juliet’s (because they were all written by the book authors)

What character did you like best?

Rebecca: My favorite character was, by far, Elizabeth McKenna, who everyone talked about. She never appeared in the book herself, but her presence was well known!

Jenny: Of course, Elizabeth McKenna.  Ultimately, the book shows how the lives of several dozen seemingly unconnected people were all affected by a phantom woman, whose mystery unfolds into a beautiful account of what it means to march by the beat of your own drum, but to make a friend at any turn—Elizabeth McKenna is loyal, inventive, trusting and trustworthy; memorable.  She showed us how to look past labels and social prescriptions.

What did you think of the ending? *SPOILERS*

Rebecca: I thought it was a nice, happy ending, but I totally didn’t see it coming for most of the book. The romance wasn’t very believable to me at all. In fact, for most of the book, I thought the eventual love interest was an old man!

Jenny: While I liked the twist of Jane Austen, I was disappointed that the relationship between Juliet and Dawsey was not more foreshadowed.  There were so many characters to remember that I didn’t think to remember Dawsey and found myself picturing him as a lonely, shy old man, as opposed to a handsome and loveable suitor.  There was not enough development of their relationship.

Would you recommend TGLPPPS?

Rebecca: Yes, I’d recommend it. It wasn’t my favorite book by a long shot, but it was a comfortable and fun read. I felt I learned something all while I was being entertained.

Jenny: I would recommend it as a frivolous light read and for its compelling suggestions of WWII, but not as deep, inventive classic fiction.

Links of Interest:

Other Reviews: (Note: I’ve only added the first ten links found; there are hundreds! If you’ve reviewed TGLPPPS, please leave a link in the comments and I’ll add it here.)

Reviewed on July 16, 2009

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • Okay, I skipped the spoiler parts. I’ve heard so many reviews saying this is good that I finally put it on my tbr list, but it’s not high priority.

  • I totally agree with you about the lack of character and romance development, and the major shift in the second part of the book. For the first half, I was sure that I’d found another favorite book, but by the end, it just didn’t make the list.

  • I loved this book. Different from any other I had read. It took me about 20 pages to get into it though. One of my favorite parts was with the pig, very clever those islanders were. I thought it was a sweet read, so I read it twice and I don’t do that very often.

  • I was rooting for Dawsey all along. He was sincere, caring, and honestly intellectual. It was a book that made me want to visit Guernsey, but it won’t be as much fun without the characters there to invite me to the book club.

  • Amanda, I think it’s a book everyone has heard of at some point!

    Jessica, I too thought I’d found a favorite book for the first 100 pages! Ah well. Too bad.

    Rose City Reader, I hope you like it!

    Kathy, Yes, not my favorite but I’m glad I read it!

    Tami, I wouldn’t mind reading it again, just wasn’t a favorite for me…

    Mom, I thought Dawsey was nice and all, I just had no idea he wasn’t an older guy. Didn’t seem romantic to me. I couldn’t picture him with Juliet. You’re right. A visit to Guernsey wouldn’t be as fun without the book club!

  • I read this when it first came out and enjoyed it as a fun read. I too enjoyed learning more about the Channel Islands, that really peaked my interest.

  • I skipped the spoilers as I haven’t read the book. I’ve not been too keen to read it because I thought it couldn’t be as good as everyone said – too many gushing reviews put me off (and the title – so gimicky). So it’s good to read a balanced review like yours. If I see it in the library I’ll have a look myself, but I’m not rushing out to buy it, although the emphasis on books does attract me.

  • J.T., yeah, not totally probably. But still a nice clean ending, right? I added your link.

    Juliann, to be honest, I”m not sure I knew the Channel Islands existed! I’m glad I wasn’t the only one learning something!

    BooksPlease, I’m a skeptic too. In the end, I think it was a good book that could have been great. For those able to overlook the flaws, I’m sure it comes across as a great book. So the praise is probably justified to some extent!

  • Thanks for the linky-love. I did love this book and didn’t notice the few things YOU noticed but now that you mention it… nah, I still enjoyed the experience overall.

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