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Dinner with the Smileys: One Military Family, One Year of Heroes, and Lessons for a Lifetime

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  1,047 ratings  ·  190 reviews
"All heart" - USA Today
"Uplifting" - Oprah's O Magazine

When their dad left for a yearlong military deployment, a community stepped in to fill his seat at the dinner week at a time.

On its surface, DINNER WITH THE SMILEYS is an uplifting true story about a wife and mother's yearlong experience inviting one new guest (from senators to school teachers, artists to p
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published May 7th 2013 by Hachette Books (first published January 1st 2013)
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Average rating 3.93  · 
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 ·  1,047 ratings  ·  190 reviews

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Lynn Plourde
Aug 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Alright, let me get the cliché out of the way . . . this book about the Smileys made me smile. Actually, the book was more like a HUG. It felt like a hug from this down-to-earth military family. It felt like a community hug from all the special people who ate dinner with the Smileys and showed their own unique ways of caring. It felt like a hug from our country--not being part of a military family, I smiled with pride at the sacrifices military families make for all of us.

Sarah Smiley writes we
Kristin Canders
May 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Everyone should read this book. I couldn't put it down. It brought happy tears, sad tears and "oh I've felt just like that" tears. It is a story about family. Love. A wonderful Mother going through what every Mother goes through....except she has a husband deployed for a year on top of it!!! For non- military readers, it is as if you are living alongside her through this and having your eyes opened to what this life is like. Her children are incredible. We can all learn from them. Sarah Smiley i ...more
Jul 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Great read. We should all take time to invite others to our table. This book should be NEXT on your list!
Jun 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Want to glance into the life of a military family during deployment? Then read Dinner with the Smileys. Sarah Smiley bravely writes about her family's ups and downs during their military father's 1 year absence. Sarah was clever enough to come up with a plan to fill Dad's seat at the dinner table on a weekly basis; thus, Dinner with the Smileys was born. The Smiley family was lucky enough to get great support for their endeavor; they hosted everyone from friends and neighbors to politicians and ...more
Jun 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was such a neat idea! It was interesting to see the family dynamics during a deployment. So many of my storytime kids have recently had parents deployed, so this gives me a better understanding of their daily lives during this time.

Since we are an Air Force town, I'm definitely telling our library to purchase Sarah's books. It's a must.

P.S. you will tear up A LOT when reading this!!
May 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I don't normally read books of this kind. But I saw it in the Sunday paper and it sounded interesting. I am so glad I read it. One of the best books I've read lately. I highly recommended it to everybody ...more
Sep 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. I admire Sarah for sharing in such a candid way the struggles of a military family. This book was not really about the dinners, it was about the journey of a family over a year-long deployment. Very touching and many great lessons.
Oct 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This was a book picked by the book club, it is not a book I would have chosen. It was a pleasant surprise and I really enjoyed reading about a family coping with the deployment of the Father/Husband of the family.
Sep 04, 2020 rated it liked it
This book is about Sarah Smiley. Her husband is deployed for 13 months. While he is gone, Sarah hosts a weekly Dinner with the Smiley's. She and her three sons host various guests throughout the time. The guests range from the boys' teachers to a lot of politicians. We saw congressman, senators, Governors. I got tired of politicians.

To be honest, I was tired of the whole formula. Each dinner kept talking about how homespun it was. Sarah kept serving lasagna, mentioning how badly her boys' behave
Apr 24, 2019 rated it liked it
Dinner with the Smileys was a very relatable memoir of a family surviving a yearlong deployment and finding a way to thrive in the process. Faced with an empty seat at the table when her husband Dustin deploys to Djibouti, Sarah begins to invite various dinner guests - a range that includes well-known figures in Maine, community leaders, neighbors, teachers, friends, and people they run into by chance. Often life intervenes. Sometimes the kids don't always act perfectly, sometimes the basement f ...more
Mar 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Thought this book wouldn't be that interesting, but I'm so happy to say this was really good. Kids were funny, guests were interesting in their own way. I loved it. What a nice family. ...more
May 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
Once I started this, it was almost impossible to put down. I think it would have been five stars if author Sarah Smiley would have included some of the recipes for the year's worth of dinners.

Dustin Smiley is being deployed for a year overseas leaving behind a wife and three sons, ranging from preteen to preschool at the family home in Bangor, Maine. This is a family that works hard to have a family dinner nightly though in many homes the ritual has died. The thought of one empty place for a yea
Dec 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Great book! After having read a excerpt from the book in the Sunday paper, I was expecting it to be a series of stories about the dinners hosted by the Smiley family while their husband/father was deployed for a year. While the stories were in there, I found so much more. Sarah honestly wrote about her family and all that they experienced while her husband, Dustin, was in Africa. In doing so helped at least me realize that children who do not behave as we expect and who are hurtful at times is a ...more
Oct 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
From the very 1st page I read, I found myself wanting to come home from work and straight away opening this book to continue reading further ahead.

The mother is smart and brave and the children are given great examples of mentor's for their own lives and careers when they grow up.

What a inspirational and profund idea! Have influential and successful people come to your home for dinner and sit in the fathers place while he is out on active duty in the service.

I almost wish the father could have b
Oct 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
(Disclosure: I live in Bangor, Maine, where this story takes place, and I have met the author.) I listened to this book on my Audible app with my 10-year-old son. We both loved it. Although the story is about the author's experience parenting her three boys while their father is deployed, the themes are relevant to any mother-son dynamic. Listening to the book with my son made the book especially wonderful: we repeatedly saw ourselves, each other, and our relationship reflected in the stories. T ...more
Apr 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
A quick, easy, delightful, and very inspiring read. When Sarah Smiley's husband, Dustin, leaves for a year-long deployment, she and her 3 young sons decide that they will fill the dinnertime void in their lives by inviting one person (or couple or family) to have a meal with them each week of his absence, thereby keeping Dustin's place at the table filled.

In this sometimes touching, sometimes funny, and always refreshingly honest memoir, Sarah recounts her family's experience with opening their
Vicki Botner
Aug 31, 2013 rated it liked it
Heard about this book from a blurb in Parade Magazine. I thought it was an excellent idea to have a guest come to dinner to "fill" the husband's/dad's chair while he was gone on deployment. There was a wide variety of guests and the fact that the author is a columnists in the local (and I guess national) paper and was writing about these dinners, meant they got some pretty impressive dinner guests...but this wasn't about having a "Who's Who" to dinner. The author was very honest and shared very ...more
Sep 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book! Sarah Smiley captured me right away in her book about extending her family to have a weekly dinner with someone else during her husband's year long deployment. I loved that she took control of the deployment and made it fun and interesting for her boys rather than simply counting down the days. What an inspiration! I enjoyed all the mix of her daily family drama and the guests that they enjoyed sharing the meals with. I admit, I did cry twice in the book. Once when the husband wa ...more
Jul 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
For those who enjoy real family life books, this book won't disappoint. This book was an enjoyable account of how a military family dealt with the loneliness of the year a husband and father of three boys was deployed. Although I could not relate to this particular situation personally, Sarah Smiley's candid description of this year could speak to anyone who is a single parent. You will chuckle while reading how the dinners did not always turn out as planned. A feel good book that reinforces fai ...more
Aug 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
A great peek into the life of a military family no just surviving a deployment, but finding a way to thrive while their loved one is away. Smiley doesn't sugar coat it and attempt to make everything seem like a walk in the park, but neither does she wallow in self pity.

I adore the idea of inviting members of the community to dinner to fill their lives with enrichment while their husband & father is deployed for the year.

I came to love their family and the quirks of each of the kids and I appreci
Denise Prewett
Dec 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I highly recommend this book!!! What a wonderful idea. Even though I am not a military wife, I am a single mom of four (3 girls, 1 boy) and I totally understand the overwhelming, alone feeling. While I was going through my divorce, I was finishing my bachelors degree and while hoping our family would pull together and strenghten and build up one another, there was constant fighting. Dealing with my own feelings and the childrens was a lot. Sarah has a wat to express herself that I was able to co ...more
Feb 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A very enjoyable quick read. Two things I enjoyed most about this book. First, the honest, raw emotion shared by the author as she struggles through a year-long deployment of her husband in the Navy. It is beyond hard and our military families deserve more thanks and respect than we'll ever be able to give. Secondly, she inspires me to get out of my comfort zone to open up my home and get to know new people. Or get to know friends even better. If she can invite people into her home weekly with h ...more
Aug 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
I loved this book because the family members were real and unafraid to expose themselves to something new. They got out of their comfort zone by inviting a new guest(s) each week to dinner to fill the head of the household's place while he was deployed overseas. Each guest delighted in showing the family something new and helped them learn the art of hospitality while the family members learned new skills or tried new adventures but mostly learned about themselves in the process. Don't miss! ...more
Aug 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I loved reading about the Smileys. I grew up around military families and felt a connection to what the Sarah and the boys went through. Deployments are rough and what the Smileys did to get through was quite creative. I definitely would recommend this to my family and friends who are in the military but also those who want to get an insight into what it's like for thousands of families when their loved one deploys. ...more
Sep 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
When Dustin Smiley was deployed to Afghanistan, his wife and 3 sons invited a different dinner guest to their home each week in order to fill his seat at the table, meet new people, learn new things, and gain support from their community. These dinners became more important to them then they ever guessed they would. I enjoyed reading all about it and getting to know the Smiley family in the process.
Clearview Library District
Oct 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book was charming, touching and entertaining. A mom decides to help her boys over the year her husband is deployed by inviting people to dinner. It's a diverse group who manages to teach them all something, or the kids teach them. Her three boys are very different. The only thing I didn't like was how over focused Mrs. Smiley was on the oldest son. I don't envy him trying to deal with that some day. ...more
Brenda Wharton
Feb 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-star
Sarah Smiley is raising 3 young boys and her husband is getting ready to leave on his 3rd deployment and will be gone in Africa for 13 months. They decide to invite a new person or people to dinner once a week to help pass the time until her husband returns. Keep some Kleenex handy as there are some sad and some funny stories of their dinner adventures and what it's like to have their dad gone for a year ...more
Aug 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book!! I could relate with the author on several levels, mainly as a military reservist's wife and as the mother of two boys (10 & 12). I laughed out loud many times, and shed a few tears as well. I love the idea of having community members over for dinner and teaching your children about others. I highly recommend Dinner with the Smiley's!!! ...more
Nov 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was a great book. A very interesting read and fascinating tale of one family's year of deployment. I very much enjoyed reading it. Though I personally don't see it as a book I would read again and again; it is definately something I would recommend to any family who has a spouse/parent who is aware for extended periods of time- especially military. Very encouraging and uplifting. ...more
Jan 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely loved this book! Poignant, inspirational, all-American. It reminded me of home - Maine - and the community I come from. It reminded me of the commitment we should have to the people around us year-round. Beautifully captures a picture of a family in ordinary and extraordinary circumstances.
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"Uplifting" - Oprah's O Magazine
"an unexpected voice..." - NYT's
"All heart" - USA Today
"Funny, smart and real" - Dave Barry

Sarah Smiley is a syndicated newspaper columnist and the author of three memoirs, including DINNER WITH THE SMILEYS (Hyperion, 2013).

Sarah has been featured in Parade Magazine, The New York Times, and USA Today, and on the Today Show, Katie Couric, Nightline, MSNBC, CNN and Fo

News & Interviews

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” So, this January, as we celebrate Martin Luther King...
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