Ivy Jacob's ever-disappointed mother and stern father react badly to news of her teen pregnancy, prompting her to run away from her tony Boston home for Western Massachusetts, where she's embraced by a group called The Community. There, she gives birth to her daughter, Mia, and marries the group's charismatic but controlling leader, Joel, when Mia is three months old. The Community's rules are draconian—members are branded with letters corresponding to their alleged crimes—and eventually the abuse weighs on Ivy's conscience. At 16, Mia secretly takes out books from a nearby library (education and reading are forbidden after members turn 15), and she tries to convince her mother to join her in an escape.
This tribute to Hawthorne’s classic earns not a red A but a puce C-minus ... Here, when Hoffman draws very close to the strings of Hawthorne’s novel, we’re made aware of the grating dissonance between them as writers ... Through some unearthly witchcraft, every prick of Hawthorne’s sharp irony is rubbed away.
Hoffman summons all of her extraordinary storytelling magic to whisk us back to Hawthorne’s world, turning our ardor for books into a force that transcends time, our love for authors into something truly erotic. As she contrasts women’s lives past and present and considers the mysterious compulsions to write and read, Hoffman’s fresh and evocative time-travel tale becomes a lush and suspenseful homage to the transporting and lifesaving power of books.