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A timely novel that interweaves past and present to explore the human capacity for resiliency and compassion in times of great upheaval.

Willa Knox has always prided herself on being the embodiment of responsibility for her family. Which is why it’s so unnerving that she’s arrived at middle age with nothing to show for her hard work and dedication but a stack of unpaid bills and an inherited brick home in Vineland, New Jersey, that is literally falling apart. The magazine where she worked has folded, and the college where her husband had tenure has closed. The dilapidated house is also home to her ailing and cantankerous Greek father-in-law and her two grown children: her stubborn, free-spirited daughter, Tig, and her dutiful debt-ridden, ivy educated son, Zeke, who has arrived with his unplanned baby in the wake of a life-shattering development.

In an act of desperation, Willa begins to investigate the history of her home, hoping that the local historical preservation society might take an interest and provide funding for its direly needed repairs. Through her research into Vineland’s past and its creation as a Utopian community, she discovers a kindred spirit from the 1880s, Thatcher Greenwood.

A science teacher with a lifelong passion for honest investigation, Thatcher finds himself under siege in his community for telling the truth: his employer forbids him to speak of the exciting new theory recently published by Charles Darwin. Thatcher’s friendships with a brilliant woman scientist and a renegade newspaper editor draw him into a vendetta with the town’s most powerful men. At home, his new wife and status-conscious mother-in-law bristle at the risk of scandal, and dismiss his financial worries and the news that their elegant house is structurally unsound.

Unsheltered is the story of two families, in two centuries, who live at the corner of Sixth and Plum, as they navigate the challenges of surviving a world in the throes of major cultural shifts. In this mesmerizing story told in alternating chapters, Willa and Thatcher come to realize that though the future is uncertain, even unnerving, shelter can be found in the bonds of kindred—whether family or friends—and in the strength of the human spirit.


First published October 16, 2018

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About the author

Barbara Kingsolver

70 books16.6k followers
Barbara Kingsolver is an American novelist, essayist, and poet. She was raised in rural Kentucky and lived briefly in Africa in her early childhood. Kingsolver earned degrees in Biology at DePauw University and the University of Arizona and worked as a freelance writer before she began writing novels. Her most famous works include The Poisonwood Bible, the tale of a missionary family in the Congo, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a non-fiction account of her family's attempts to eat locally.

Her work often focuses on topics such as social justice, biodiversity, and the interaction between humans and their communities and environments. Each of her books published since 1993 have been on The New York Times Best Seller list. Kingsolver has received numerous awards, including the UK's Orange Prize for Fiction 2010, for The Lacuna and the National Humanities Medal. She has been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

In 2000, Kingsolver established the Bellwether Prize to support "literature of social change."

Kingsolver was born in Annapolis, Maryland in 1955 and grew up in Carlisle in rural Kentucky. When Kingsolver was seven years old, her father, a physician, took the family to the former Republic of Congo in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Her parents worked in a public health capacity, and the family lived without electricity or running water.

After graduating from high school, Kingsolver attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana on a music scholarship, studying classical piano. Eventually, however, she changed her major to biology when she realized that "classical pianists compete for six job openings a year, and the rest of [them:] get to play 'Blue Moon' in a hotel lobby." She was involved in activism on her campus, and took part in protests against the Vietnam war. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in 1977, and moved to France for a year before settling in Tucson, Arizona, where she would live for much of the next two decades. In 1980 she enrolled in graduate school at the University of Arizona, where she earned a Master's degree in ecology and evolutionary biology.

Kingsolver began her full-time writing career in the mid 1980s as a science writer for the university, which eventually lead to some freelance feature writing. She began her career in fiction writing after winning a short story contest in a local Phoenix newspaper. In 1985 she married Joseph Hoffmann; their daughter Camille was born in 1987. She moved with her daughter to Tenerife in the Canary Islands for a year during the first Gulf war, mostly due to frustration over America's military involvement. After returning to the US in 1992, she separated from her husband.

In 1994, Kingsolver was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from her alma mater, DePauw University. She was also married to Steven Hopp, that year, and their daughter, Lily, was born in 1996. In 2004, Kingsolver moved with her family to a farm in Washington County, Virginia, where they currently reside. In 2008, she received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Duke University, where she delivered a commencement address entitled "How to be Hopeful".

In a 2010 interview with The Guardian, Kingsolver says, "I never wanted to be famous, and still don't, [...:] the universe rewarded me with what I dreaded most." She says created her own website just to compete with a plethora of fake ones, "as a defence to protect my family from misinformation. Wikipedia abhors a vacuum. If you don't define yourself, it will get done for you in colourful ways."

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Profile Image for Emily May.
1,944 reviews292k followers
August 25, 2020
I don't know how I managed to finish this book. I'm sure I wouldn't have if I wasn't so reluctant to write a DNF review and deal with the inevitable backlash (how can you possibly say you didn't like it when you didn't even finish it?!)

Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible is a great book, IMO, and it's hard to believe the same well-respected author wrote something this didactic and heavy-handed. There were parts where I felt like the only thing that separated Unsheltered from being an essay was the inclusion of speech marks. It was such a snoozefest.

I've heard Barbara Kingsolver called things like "preachy" in the past, and I always expect her own politics to feature heavily in her work, but this is the first time when it's felt so forced and unnatural. After all, I agree with a lot of her political beliefs on climate issues, healthcare, education, employment and taxation. It's just that I expect them to be better integrated into the story instead of voiced through the characters sat around having debates.

That's not an exaggeration. Willa Knox and her family sit around multiple times, having very pointed and didactic political debates. Willa serves as the confused centre between the aging racist Trump supporter, Nick, and her daughter Tig, who repeatedly delivers lectures on the narrow-mindedness of older generation Americans. Some of Tig's insights mirror my own beliefs, but she is so self-righteous that it is hard to like her.

The narrative is split between the present day and Grant-era America.

In the now, Willa and Iano were comfortably cradled in the middle class until several misfortunes left them living in an inherited New Jersey home that is literally falling apart. Tig is critical of her parents' feelings of entitlement, not to mention her Greek grandfather's racism. Their son Zeke, on the other hand, has been left alone with a baby after his mentally ill girlfriend commits suicide. A graduate of Harvard Business School, he still struggles to find success in today's competitive job market (something else Willa can't quite wrap her head around).

In the past - and I have to say, I never managed to care one iota about this part of the story - Thatcher Greenwood's experiences mirror that of Willa and her family. A teacher like Iano and also living in a house in need of repair, his desire to teach Darwinian theory threatens his livelihood. He befriends real-life naturalist Mary Treat who encourages his interest in Charles Darwin.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about Unsheltered is that it could have been so good. Kingsolver touches upon many issues that are close to my heart, but this truly feels like more of a lecture than a novel. I closed the book feeling no emotional ties to the characters or story. Underneath, there's a clever idea - the exploration of two different time periods where social change and upheaval has torn apart widely-held beliefs - but I was beaten over the head with it so many times that it became exhausting and tedious.

I'll end on a positive, though. This is a great Tig quote, and applicable in both the past and present of the novel, as well as in America's current reality:
“All the rules have changed and it’s hard to watch people keep carrying on just the same, like it’s business as usual.”

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Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,290 reviews120k followers
March 18, 2023
The simplest thing would be to tear it down,” the man said. “The house is a shambles.”
You do the right thing. You go to school, spend the years, invest the money, put off this or that temporary form of glee, take on the debt, pay it off. Get a job at the bottom of the ladder, work X number of years and move up. There are mis-steps, of course, accidents, bad decisions, re-directions, disappointments. Some big, some less so, everyone has these. You get married, have children, be a solid citizen, join the board of a local youth council, coach your kids’ ball teams. You do the right thing, and everything is supposed to work out ok. You’re not looking to be a millionaire. But you want to send your kids to good schools, see them go to college, have satisfying adult lives of their own. You do the right thing. You don’t cheat on your taxes, or your spouse, you keep trying to learn new things, not just to keep up with changing work skills, but to understand the events and transformations that are taking place in the world, and to satisfy an unquenchable need to learn, to sate that mental itch that keeps laughing at you as an imbecile, correctable only by learning, reading, watching, gathering knowledge, trying to make sense of it. You plan for the future, and have a sane expectation that, someday, you can retire and still have a decent life. You do the right thing, follow the course that has been laid out for a very long time, expecting that the promised rewards will arrive. And sometimes they do. But while you were busy doing the right thing, those with the power and the money changed the rules of engagement. So, instead of an American Dream made real, it is as if you have stepped into an episode of The Twilight Zone. It is a time in which the promises of the past have not just been broken, they have been stolen. And much that could not be hauled away has been set ablaze, or left in pieces by the side of The Road, and so many who live in terror have been persuaded to keep telling themselves that it’s A Good Life. Don’t fight it or it might get worse, much, much worse. Better yet, find some groups who have nothing to do with the real changes and blame them. The right thing has been exposed as a long con, a sucker’s game, rigged, the prizes snatched away even when you hit the bullseye. And those doing the yanking laugh at their victims as prey, as marks. Things fall apart; the center cannot hold, as it is devoured from the right.

Barbara Kingsolver - image from her site

We live in a time of upheaval. People who have been victimized forever are gaining respect and rights. Same sex marriage is the law of the land, legalization of marijuana is spreading across the country, MeToo is holding accountable many abusers who acted in flagrant disregard for common human decency. Many deservedly respected norms have been tossed aside with a sneer. Notions of fair play seem quaint, civility is in tatters, the earth itself is rebelling against the excesses of short-sighted human folly. So, right up Barbara Kingsolver’s alley. She has always written about big picture issues. She wrote about colonialism in The Poisonwood Bible, about climate change in Flight Behavior, about the divide between art and politics in the USA, among other things, in The Lacuna. In an interview she did recently with Goodreads, Kingsolver says:
The question in this case was, "What in the heck is going on?" How can it be that all of the rules—about what kind of leaders people admire and elect to public office, and how we behave as citizens of the world—no longer seem to apply. All the rules seem to be changing. And not only that, but larger, biological rules about our home, the idea that the poles would always be covered with ice, and that there would always be more fish in the sea. All these things that I've always counted on suddenly were no longer true… One of the things you can count on is that people will be very afraid, and they will cleave to leaders who reassure them, even if those leaders behave like tyrannical bullies. When we're afraid, we look for protection. One of the things this book is about is how desperately we hold on to our old world views, even when they no longer serve us, and how we overlook a lot of things to find reassurance.
Kingsolver addresses this with a binocular view. In one lens it is 2016, in the other the 1870s.

In today’s cast, Willa Knox is a fifty-something journalist, was, is, might still be. The publication for which she had been working went belly up, and now she tries to patch together enough freelance gigs to bring in at least some money, while working on writing a book. Her husband, Iano Tavoularis, had achieved that glory of glories, tenure at a respected college, well, until that institution likewise folded, and Iano was tossed back to the bottom rung, becoming a migrant worker, moving from school to school on one-year contracts at bottom-rung pay. The family includes an adult son, Zeke, living in Boston, a twenty-something daughter, Antigone (Tig), living at home for now, and Iano’s disabled father, Old Nick, the vile relation who leaves no opportunity untaken for spewing his lifelong bigotry, the crazy uncle who ruins family gatherings with mindless opposition to anything decent, the sort of person who refuses to sign up for Medicare, seeing it as a welfare program, despite that action endangering not only his own miserable life, but the lives of the family members determined to take care of him, a fan of Fox and Rush. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

In the 1870s, Thatcher Greenwood, like Iano, is a teacher in a local school. He had done the right thing, learned some medicine while serving in the Civil War, studied, and now teaches science. He worked himself up from meager beginnings. His wife, Rose, about ten years his junior, was raised with higher expectations, in a family that did well, until their breadwinner died unexpectedly, and they found that they had not been left so well off as they had imagined. While sustaining her aspirations for a comfortable life, reality intervened, and Rose accepted Thatch’s proposal.

One of the great gifts of this novel is the introduction to most of us of a new name in the history of science. Fictional Thatcher’s friend, Mary Treat, was a very real and noteworthy 19th century scientist, having published many papers of original research, and having maintained ongoing communications with some of the brightest scientific lights of the time, including Darwin.

Each era is allowed to host its own travails, while mirroring those of its opposite number. Thatch is forced to debate Darwinism with the head of his school, a man who is firmly dedicated to religious explanations for all reality, however extremely he must stretch his rationales to match observable facts. Despite the one hundred fifty years between, we are still infected by people who refuse to accept observable, measurable facts, people who cling to their ignorance as tenaciously as a survivor of the USS Indianapolis to a life-raft.

The concern with tyranny is made overt in the historical side of things, as the founder of Vineland, a self-inflated monster who engages in behavior that Donald Trump has only dreamed of (so far as we know), seeing himself as more king than political leader, carries his hatred of a critical press to an extreme. Trump is never named, but is referred to as The Bullorn, the period of the contemporary setting coinciding with the 2016 presidential primaries and election.
“I wonder what service is possible…when half the world, with no understanding of Darwin at all, will rally around whoever calls him a criminal and wants him hanged.” – he’d witnessed this very thing in a market square in Boston: the crude effigy dangling from a noose, the monkey’s tail pinned to the stuffed trousers, the murderous crowd chanting Lock him up!…“I suppose it is in our nature,” she said…“When men fear the loss of what they know, they will follow any tyrant who promises to restore the old order.”
The central image that crosses the timelines is the notion of shelter. Kingsolver has placed both families in buildings that are crumbling, in the same location, a nice stand-in for the demise of extant societal underpinnings. It is brought in as well to describe why people can be so resistant to new ideas. Science in particular is a venue where Kingsolver has frequently offered insight, connecting the demise of physical spaces here to the feeling of vulnerability.
”We are given to live in a remarkable time. When the nuisance of old mythologies falls away from us, we may see with new eyes.”
“Falls away, or is torn. The old mythologies are a comfort to many.”
“But we are creatures like any other. Mr. Darwin’s truth in inarguable.”
“And because it is true, we will argue against it as creatures do. Our eyes are not new, nor are our teeth and claws. I’m afraid I see a great burrowing back toward our old supremacies, Mrs Treat. No creature is easily coerced to live without its shelter.”
“Without shelter, we feel ourselves likely to die.”
Offering an explanation for so many who voted against their own economic interest in 2016, in hopes, however ill-informed, that the right would restore a mythical, lost world. From a more optimistic perspective
“…your pupils depend on it, Thatcher. Their little families have come here looking for safety, but they will go on laboring under old authorities until their heaven collapses. Your charge is to lead them out of doors. Teach them to see evidence for themselves, and not to fear it.”
“To stand in the clear light of day, you once said, Unsheltered.”
There are many stressors portrayed, particularly for the contemporaries, that will keep that very large gong, very close to your head, vibrating long and loud, with widespread and lasting resonance. The anti-science terrors have been noted above. Contemporary families must cope with the horrors of the cost of medical care in the last so-called advanced nation that lacks universal coverage. Willa and Iano not only have a disabled elderly family member, who resists the public programs that might cover him, but are the recipients of an unexpected surprise, when their twenty-something son and his gf have a baby, mom, in a burst of 21st century strangeness in the USA, not surviving. Guess where dad and child wind up? Well, child mostly, as young dad returns to the world of work to try to make his way, Granny Willa and Auntie Tig taking on the parenting duties. Mention is made of Zeke’s six-figure college debt, and working as an intern, because if he took a job he would have to start paying back his mortgage-level school debt. The 1870s presented some different stresses, including a look at the particular challenges of being female, when identity was more tied to one’s family and significant-other than may be the case today.

The book also looks at self-sufficiency in both timelines. Mary Treat must make a living as a single woman without an actual job, so finds a way, while doing work she loves. Willa must make her way as a freelancer after her employment options are whittled down to none. Tig is a marvel of making do, using her creativity and diverse work exposures to find ways to make her life work, despite the absence of a decent income.

Kingsolver is all about themes, ideas, issues, big pictures, but if her characters do not engage, the questions being asked will not be considered. Thankfully, Willa and Thatch are both wonderfully drawn. Good people, coping in difficult circumstances, the walls, literally, falling down around them, while accepting responsibility for trying to keep the families safe. Willa’s travails mirrored a lot of my own, so rang a bit louder. Tig was maybe the most interesting, for her diversity of life experiences, and superior ability to cope in trying times. Old Nick was delightfully unspeakable, if a bit of a broad portrayal. Mary Treat was the most interesting from a reality perspective, but her character does not really move very far once we get to see what she is about.

Consider the book quote with which we began this review. Can you really tear it all down? What if you do not yet have something with which to replace it? What if you do not have the means with which to build something else? Rotten structures we may have, but replacement takes time, focus, a plan, and resources. Kingsolver is not interested in providing an architectural plan for our next residence, but she does offer some notions of what it might include, particularly via conversations between Willa and her daughter.

One complaint that some have about Kingsolver’s writing is that it can be too overtly political. This good, that bad. Not that there is anything wrong with a book being political. Some things are good, like openness to science. Other things are bad, like autocracy. But the methodology can be subtle and effective or blatant and off-putting. In showing Mary Treat’s love for science, Kingsolver offers a marvel of examples of her work. Showing without telling. Thatcher struggles to frame his defense of Darwinian reason in such a way that he can hang onto his job, and not offend his creationist boss. This resonates with the struggles that are engaged in today over religious groups trying to force public schools to teach that great oxymoron, creationist science, and its twin, intelligent design, as valid scientific theory, and not as what they are, religious dogma. However, with Willa and Tig, in their discussions of what has been happening in today’s world, how things are changing, there is an excess of what felt like lecturing to me. Tig had been shown acting on her perspective. Explaining it all seemed excessive. On the other hand, showing how Charles Landis, a real estate developer and the founder of Vineland, exploited his position to persuade the uncritical of his wonderfulness, was a wonderful means by which to show how the contemporary one percent manipulate public opinion.

We may wonder what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? You do the right thing. If you’re lucky it works out. If you started life with a leg up your chances are pretty good, but for the rest of us, well, the right thing don’t mean squat. What do you do when those making the promises steal everything and criminalize resistance? What do you do when your votes are nullified by crooked politicians and stacked courts? We may wonder how best to cope with the changes that are transforming our world. We may be disappointed, or worse, that the rules by which we lived proved to be an illusion, but we may also discover or create new ones. We may seek ways to right wrongs, and we may search for means by which to defend ourselves from further onslaught. Perhaps the best we can offer is to do the right thing, whatever that right thing may be, even if it means having to discover anew what that right thing actually is. In our national house, the roof has been blown off by the latest dire weather. Decisions must be made. Where to rebuild, how to rebuild, even, I suppose, whether to rebuild. We are living in an unsheltered time and Barbara Kingsolver has captured the feeling of exposure that so many of us have been experiencing.

Review posted – October 19, 2018

Publication date – October 16, 2018

I resonated bigly with this novel, but did not want to clutter the review with too many personal details, (well, more than I already have) so am tucking a few paragraphs under the spoiler tag, for any who might have an interest, and parking it in Comment #1.

=============================EXTRA STUFF

The author’s personal site

Items of Interest
-----A Wiki on Mary Treat
-----A Wiki on Charles Landis, the founder of Vineland
-----From the Paris Review, a piece on William Butler Yeats, and the poem, The Second Coming, which I sprinkled into the review.
-----The Book Trail is a site that helps you visit locations noted in particular books

-----The Goodreads interview - by Kerry Shaw
----The Guardian - Barbara Kingsolver: ‘It feels as though we’re living through the end of the world’ - by Lidija Haas

Reviews of other Kingsolver books
-----The Poisonwood Bible
-----The Lacuna
-----Flight Behavior
Profile Image for Dorie  - Cats&Books :) .
977 reviews2,664 followers
September 15, 2018
This is the first book by this author that I did not finish, here's why.

OK this was a huge disappointment for me but in hindsight I guess I should have seen it coming. I loved Kingsolver's earlier books but this one was just so political it was boring and tiring. I don't enjoy reading a book that makes me feel as though I'm being lectured to. I grew tired of the God vs evolution discussion, the health care, climate change etc etc etc.

There is so much of all of this discussion in the news and everywhere I turn, I didn't want to read it in a novel. I respect her as an author but this one was not for me.
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,276 reviews2,213 followers
September 18, 2018
3.5 stars
I know when I read a Kingsolver book that it will most likely be about social issues, perhaps political too, so I wasn’t surprised. At first I thought there were maybe too many issues thrown in - affording to live, affording to die, health care, the environment, bigotry, and yes the politics of the day. A college closes and Willa Knox’s husband loses his tenured position and pension and they lose their home. The magazine she worked for went broke and she is forced to freelance. Iano has to take an untenured job paying less, but at least they have the house her aunt left her in Vineland, NJ. BUT the house is old and is need of major repairs. Hell, it has almost a “nonexistent foundation.” What else could life deal out to Willa who bears the burden of all that goes on in her family? Oh yeah, her adult children. Her oldest son Zeke comes home leaving with them his new born baby, while he goes off to establish a business and their daughter Tig, an activist at heart also lives with them as well as her bigot, ailing father-in-law, Nick, a royal pain who also becomes her responsibility. I also know, when I read a Kingsolver book, that I’ll find her terrific storytelling and writing, and wonderful characters whose lives reflect the impact of these social issues in such a realistic way. These are people we might know. So I knew what to expect and wasn’t disappointed in that respect.

But this is a dual story line with the present 2016 connected to the 1860’s by this house among other things. I have to admit the historical narrative didn’t hold my interest until close to the end, but there are characters in that time frame that I thought were fascinating, especially a naturalist named Mary Treat, who was a real person and happened to be friends with Charles Darwin. What was interesting about the past story is that a good bit of it is based on fact. Yet, it was Willa’s story that captivated me, felt so realistic. It was the family dynamics that held me with these timely and relevant issues depicted through their everyday lives and emotions. I’m having a hard time coming up with my thoughts about the book as a whole with the dual narratives which are connected in some ways, but just not enough of a cohesive way for me. In spite of this, I loved Willa’s story and will round up to 4 stars.

This was a buddy read with Esil and Diane and it’s always great to discuss with them!

I received an advanced copy of this book from HarperCollins through Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Cathrine ☯️ .
604 reviews330 followers
March 13, 2019
4✚ 🐜 🐜 🐜 🐜
If there was such a prize this one might win The Most Polarizing Novel of 2018. You will most likely be down there on the grass counting spiders with Mrs. Treat or staring at her from your window thinking she’s a crazy bug lady.
I’m a huge BK fan but began this with some apprehension. A fair share of fans and friends did not find this a rewarding reading experience. I read several professional reviews after the fact and most were not singing praises or were downright unkind in their remarks. At the other end, it is currently on the bestseller lists and is in the early voting round on GR for Best Historical Fiction and some stars are shining brightly. While for the most part I’ve stopped sharing book thoughts, I can’t help but add my two cents.

I can understand the highs and the lows. I prepared myself for possible slow going — happily not the case for me. Safe to say if you don’t identify with the author's personal convictions this might alienate you or produce reader's remorse. I’m not sure if I liked it because I do identify or that her way of telling a story always satisfies my reader’s appetite ... so glad I didn’t let the poor reviews dampen my enthusiasm to open the pages. There could never be too many Barbara Kingsolvers or Mary Treats in my world. If this was an empty plate I’d be licking it. Ah, the comforting shelter of kindred books.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,696 reviews14.1k followers
September 19, 2018
3.5 Upon my completion of this book, I was left with a serious conundrum. What do I rate this? I actually finished a few days ago, a read with Angela and Esil, and have been pondering that question throughout. One expects when reading Kingsolver to be confronted with her opinions, political, environmentally or something to do with the natural world. Here she gives us all three, in two different stories, ons in the past, one in the present. The connection being the house that is lived in that happens to be falling apart around those within.

In the present day we are introduced to Willa and her family, husband, dying father in law and two grown children, one with an extra. She and her husband had, she felt, done everything right, but now I their late fifties they find themselves scrambling just to make dnds meet. I loved her character, very realistic portrayal, and loved her daughter Tig. The father in law, not so much, he was the spewer of all things wrong in this country, from Obama care, to immigrants being allowed in, he is a great believer in turning back the clock and returning to the good old days.

In the past, we have a woman and a town that actually existed. This for me alwsys adds more authenticity to the story. Mary Treat was a real 19th century, self taught biologist who had a writing relationship with Darwin among others. Thatcher is a young, married man hired to teach at the school. The struggle here is the opinion of those believing in Creatisionalism, refuting and positively disliking the views of Darwin and natural selection. Thatcher and his family are the ones living in the house.

While I understand the connection, the message Kingsolver is presenting. That have had struggles in the past between those who want to cling to the way things were, dislikng progress, that these time pass, we will get through them. These two stories were so different, not in subject, but in tone and presentation, that I finished feeling as if I had read two separate books. I understood the unifying theme but didn't feel it. The writing though in both sections was very good, as are most of Kingsolver, and i enjoyed learning about someone I never knew, I just had a hard time finding this a cohesive whole.

ARC from Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Kelly.
210 reviews20 followers
July 2, 2018
Kingsolver has been my favorite author for decades, since The Bean Trees swept me away 30 years ago. With Unsheltered, she has given us another gem. The best novels, I believe, are those that defy easy description. Unsheltered is about shelter, which we find in structures, people, nature, and work. It’s about the discoveries of science that are often put up against the ideas of faith. It’s about today’s sad political climate in which our true climate, our Earth, is in crisis. And it’s about people, some living in the 1870s, and some living in our present time, who sheltered for a time in the same neighborhood, the same house, in Vineland, NJ. Kingsolver has built a book that honors the biologists and naturists and shames the shenanigans of our political leaders, revealing what is most important for all of us: finding shelter.
Profile Image for Jill.
1,155 reviews1,611 followers
August 31, 2018
First of all, I want to shout out a word of thanks to the Goodreads FirstRead program and to the publisher, HarperCollins, for giving me the pleasure of becoming an early reader for one of my favored authors. You guys are the best!

I’ve read most of Barbara Kingsolver’s books and the one thing I learned a while back is that you don’t go into her books without expecting a strong point of view. In an accompanying letter, Ms. Kingsolver writes, “What I know for sure is that stories will get us through times of no leadership, better than leaders will get us through times with no stories.” So, if you are a big supporter of Trump’s legitimizing of personal greed as the principal religion of our country or if you believe that Charles Darwin is the devil himself, this is NOT a book you want to pick up. Just sayin’.

To my mind, this is Ms. Kingsolver’s best work since Poisonwood Bible, and that’s saying a lot. In alternating chapters, Barbara Kingsolver addresses a present-day situation—Willa Knox, her professor husband Iano with his non-tenured one-year assignment, her cantankerous conservative Greek father-in-law, her free-spirited daughter Tig and her son Zeke and his infant baby—are living on the edge.

Their house is dilapidated and falling down. That’s a metaphor, folks. In researching the house’s past, Willa discovers a fascinating story of former inhabitant and science teacher Thatcher Greenwood, who was treated with disdain because of his wish to teach his students Darwin’s theory of evolution. This fictional character befriends a real-life biologist named Mary Treat, and the merging of fact and fiction is excellently rendered.

What does it mean to be unsheltered? The answer: “To stand in the clear day of light.” Being unsheltered is having the courage to see what’s really going on right in front of your eyes without religious homilies and without illusions or the trappings of excess materialism. It is the parable of Mr. Occam’s Razor – recognizing that the most evident explanation is very likely the simplest one.

Had Ms. Kingsolver developed this into a screed, I would have been less enchanted. But the conversations between characters seem organic. Each of us know the impassioned millennial who tell us that “all the rules are changed and it’s hard to watch people keep carrying on just the same…” All of us know the irascible father-in-law clinging to hateful biases or the parents who just want life to be a little better for their children. For me, this was a fine-crafted book by an impassioned writer who breathed life into her characters and her premise. And oh, the plot is very engaging as well.
Profile Image for Chelsea Humphrey.
1,421 reviews77.6k followers
Shelved as 'dnf-lost-interest'
October 8, 2018
Unfortunately, I'm going to have to DNF this one for now. It's my first from the author, and from what I'm hearing from beloved fans, I need to pick up a different one and give it a shot. <3

*Many thanks to the publisher for providing my copy.
Profile Image for Claire.
805 reviews175 followers
October 7, 2018
Kingsolver has nailed it again for me. Unsheltered was a confronting, absorbing, thoughtful read- a novel of our times. I’m predisposed to like this a lot for a number of reasons; most importantly that Kingsolver draws of some of my favourite narrative devices- parallel narratives, and the use of place as character. At some level, this is a novel about a house, crumbling without foundations. More importantly it is a novel about the significance of foundations in our lives; how we build and neglect them, or fasten ourselves to outdated and broken ones. It’s also a novel about loneliness and challenge- what it is to see and think differently and why that is so important. I loved this.
Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,024 reviews48.4k followers
October 17, 2018
Here comes the first major novel to tackle the Trump era straight on and place it in the larger chronicle of existential threats. Kingsolver has constructed this book as two interlaced stories, separated by more than a century. The contemporary story in “Unsheltered” offers a collage of Democratic talking points acted out in the lives of a middle-class family slipping down the ladder of success. Ironically, the alternate chapters of “Unsheltered,” set in the 1870s, are fresher and more rewarding. Traveling side by side, 140 years apart, these alternating stories maintain their distinctive tones but echo one another in curious, provocative ways. Kingsolver suggests that it’s never been easy to find oneself unsheltered, cast out from the comforts of old beliefs about how the world works. If there’s any spark of optimism in this grim prognosis for our survival, it’s implied by. . . .

To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post:
Profile Image for Scarlett.
148 reviews57 followers
April 5, 2018
Welcome to The Big Book of Dialogues! I have never in my life read this big amount of unnecessary blabber between characters, I simply can’t believe that one experienced author could put all this in a novel and expect people to read it with excitement. Some of the topics that were discussed casually, during dinner or a simple walk around the neighborhood: molecules, unsustainable economy, Darwin’s theory, digestion of spiders, house reparations, Obamacare, insurance. All this lead nowhere!

I was definitely bored as soon as the book started - a woman was chatting with her contractor about possible foundation improvement. Not just quick banter, it was pages and pages of her thinking, his persuasion, her thinking what will her husband say, contractor saying that he will come back and then - some more info about the history of the neighborhood. At this point, I was wondering - aaah, so this is a story about a house, this house must be important, right? Not at all! This proved to be true about all other dialogues, no point whatsoever! I only continued because something implied that there will be family drama right ahead and I love a good family history filled with personal issues. But, unfortunately, this was just an average family where no one was worth writing home about.

As it is often the case, two stories, present and past, intertwine. Present was slightly more interesting than the past. Some time ago, a woman exchanged letters with Darwin and did some strange experiments with animals in the name of science. Whenever this past story was cast upon me, I was skipping through pages. It was torture.

The present - Willa is a mother of two, with a husband, father-in-law and a grandchild. She feels the pressure of an average person - how to save money, how to fix the leaking roof, where to find inspiration. I admit, it would be nice to read about a plain regular person for a change, but this woman just had nothing going on! It was dinner after lunch, walk after playdate and dialogues about this life that we all have. How the hell am I suppose to say this is a page-turner?!

I am beyond disappointed, it was not a short book, I feel that this is not the same author who wrote The Poisonwood Bible and I will definitely stay clear of her work from now on.

I got this edition through Edelweiss and I am very thankful to the publisher for this reading opportunity!
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,330 followers
November 4, 2018
3+ stars

I loved Barbara Kingsolver’s earlier books. But I haven’t loved her more recent books as much. She remains a good writer and still has deep insight into people and their complexities, but there’s an edge of preachiness to her writing that I find a bit jarring — even if I tend to agree with what she is preaching about.

Unsheltered was yet another such book. Told in two timelines, Unsheltered tells the stories of people pushed out to the margins making do and forming communities. In the contemporary storyline, the story focuses on three generations of a family forced to live in a old decrepit family home due to economic circumstances. The historic storyline set in the late 19th century is also set in the same family home. Other than the house, the thematic connections between both stories are not obvious, other than the focus on people trying to make the best of difficult economic or political circumstances.

I must admit that I much preferred the contemporary storyline. While I found Kingsolver’s political message a bit too naked, I nevertheless really enjoyed the characters. I found the 19th century story really flat, even though it dealt with interesting historical figures.

I expect true fans of Kingsolver’s books will like this one, but I wouldn’t suggest starting with Unsheltered if you’re interested in this book.

Thank you to my reading buddies, Angela and Diane, for reading this one with me, even the though I lagged far behind in reading this mammoth book. And thank you to the publisher and Edelweiss for an opportunity to read an advance copy.
Profile Image for Zoeytron.
1,028 reviews661 followers
December 16, 2018
The importance of keeping one's house in order despite a shaky foundation, deterioration and rot festering within the walls and overhead.  Can it even be done?  With little common ground, the broken pieces of lives lie just under the surface, waiting to emerge and injure again.    

Preachy as hell, to the point of distraction.  Enough is enough, and too much is just foolish.  Say sorry, but a once favored author of mine has slipped into tepidity for me.  If not for the intriguingly tricky family dynamics of the present day story (four generations under one iffy roof!), I would almost certainly have quit on this one.
Profile Image for Bonnie Brody.
1,172 reviews185 followers
September 5, 2018
I used to love Barbara Kingsolver's writing. The Poisonwood Bible, Bean Trees, and Animal Dreams are some of my favorite novels. But then she started getting very preachy, using her novels for what I interpret as authorial interjection. I feel lectured by her on a variety of subjects that must be close to her heart. In fact, many of her causes are close to my own heart. Despite this commonality of social consciousness and politics, that is not what I want to find in a novel. I want to be transported, have my mind filled with glorious images, feel like I've left the real world behind and I'm in the pages of magic, the throes of a book.

In 'Unsheltered', Ms. Kingsolver makes a case about the fragility of what we consider our most important and significant asset - our homes or feeling sheltered in a precarious world.. The novel takes place in two timelines. The first one is current. A family has moved back to their ancestral home in Vineland New Jersey and realize that it is falling apart.. The very first sentence of the book says it very well: "'The simplest thing would be to tear it down', the man said. ' The house is a shambles'". The people who lived in the home during the 19th century dealt with the same issues. "If it were only the roof, we wouldn't be in for so much trouble. But I'm afraid the whole house is at odds with itself."

As the novel opens, in present time, Willa, the family matriarch, finds out that her son Zeke's partner has taken her own life. Zeke is left with an infant to care for and, despite being the graduate of ivy league schools, has no job and is $100,000 dollars in debt from student loans. For some reason his parents claim they didn't realize he was in such debt. Though Zeke and his partner Helene were not married, she was a lawyer and it seems that neither of them thought to prepare a will or get insurance. Zeke was completely dependent on Helene's work for financial security. I understand postpartum depression very well, but the novel seems to want to blame the obstetrician for the suicide Willa says to Zeke, "Helene died of depression. A medical condition caused by pregnancy and an OB-GYN who cared more about the baby than the mother". How does the reader know this is true? We don't. We are expected to believe that Helene's doctor is ignorant and as cold as an iceberg. Nothing is said about Helene reaching out for help or telling her doctor about her emotional state.

Then there is Nic, Willa's cranky father-in-law, who lives with them. I was so annoyed at the Healthcare 101 lecture when Nic sought medical care that I could have thrown the book across the room. It felt like Ms. Kingsolver was going on ad infinitum about the horrible insurance companies, the medicare rules and regulations, the easy ways that clinics deny services, and all the loopholes that exist to prevent one from getting the medical care they need. It's not that I don't agree with her but none of this was fluid to the narrative. It was an appendage, an authorial assertion that did not feel organic or necessary.

Ms Kingsolver also takes on academia, student loan debt, the crumby job market, and how difficult it is to earn a living wage in this country. Yes, it does feel like the house is falling down around us. But does this a novel make? I say no. Zeke could have worked if he wanted to. He was highly educated but didn't seem all that motivated. Ms. Kingsolver blames a job market that has the lowest unemployment rate in decades. Yes, student loans are untenable but again all of this was authorial intrusion and inorganic to the flow of the book.

I could outline the plot but basically the novel deals with two families, both living in the same house at different times . The family living in the house currently consists of Willa and her husband, their two grown children, Tig and Zeke, Zeke's infant, and Willa's ill and cantankerous father-in-law. Willa is a contract journalist, Zeke is out of work and has no clue about how to care for a baby. Willa's husband was a tenured professor at a college that closed down and is now on a one year teaching assignment. Tig (short for Antigone) is a free spirited young woman trying to grab the world by its coat tails. The inhabitants of the house during the 19th century period are exceedingly boring. The only interesting character is Thatcher, a newly hired science teacher who believes in the theory of evolution. He befriends the woman next door who has a very scientific curiosity and a correspondence with Darwin.

I hate being lectured to in novels. I read non-fiction and, even then, a good writer will let the reader draw some conclusions of their own. I felt that Ms. Kingsolver was desperate to get her disparate opinions across and over-compensated so much that it left the novel floundering. I realize that she cares deeply for her causes and respect that. She founded the Bellwether award for novelists who write books about social consciousness. However, there is a time and place for lecturing. Ms. Kingsolver is not a debut author. She is a fine and accomplished writer. I wish this novel had reflected her talents.
Profile Image for Anne Bogel.
Author 6 books52.2k followers
November 24, 2019
Barbara Kingsolver is a must-read author for me. I love her work, especially The Poisonwood Bible. At 466 pages, this is a long book, but I inhaled it.

Kingsolver writes that she is explicitly addressing the events of her time, but she does that in part by looking back: her double narrative follows the life-changing decisions and uncertain times experienced by two separate families, one hundred years apart, who both live in the same home in Vineland, New Jersey.

Kingsolver found one heck of a subject for the historical element, an American scientist I'd previously never heard of named Mary Treat.

I loved the clever linking of the chapter titles—pick up the book and you'll see what I mean.
Profile Image for Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance.
5,780 reviews280 followers
July 20, 2020
Every time I start reading a book I love I find myself slowing down, setting the book down in the middle of a chapter, rereading a page or two, going back and reading an earlier chapter again—-doing anything, in short, in order to prolong the experience, to avoid the inevitable last page.

That’s how I felt about Unsheltered.

There is so much to admire about this book. The structure of the novel is brilliantly constructed. Kingsolver tells two stories, one in present day, and one just after the Civil War, both set in the same location. In both stories, the people living in the house find that at the same time their lives are collapsing around them, their house is also collapsing. Both sets of characters live in times in which rational thought, scientific thought, faces off against thought weakly supported yet widely believed, and both sets of characters struggle to stand on scientific high ground. The characters are deeply human, with both great strengths and great flaws. The dialogue between characters is snappy and clever, full of thoughtfulness. But the book is even more than just brilliant structure, fascinating characters, and snappy dialogue; it’s a book that leaves its readers thinking about the big ideas in life, thinking about relationships where two people are unevenly yoked, thinking about how a ne’er-do-well child can sometimes show strength of character greater than the shining star child, thinking about the importance of struggle in life, thinking about so many things....A fabulous book that everyone who feels the deep dismay about the world so common today among thoughtful people needs to read.
Profile Image for Margitte.
1,146 reviews502 followers
May 2, 2019
Let's make it short and sweet. Jarring, tedious, boring, preachy, political rant disguised as a novel. A keyboard-warrior on steroids. I loved the author's earlier works. I simply could not finish this book as much as I tried. It was my last read of this author. This was a gigantic waste of valuable time. What an utter disappointment.

Perhaps I've read, and still read, too many, and way more interesting and riveting non-fictional books on the chosen subjects in this book.

One star rating = I did not like it. As simple as that. I never ever thought that I would one day give one of my favorite authors a one star rating.
Profile Image for Judy.
1,060 reviews
September 27, 2018
I was looking forward to reading this book because I've loved several of Barbara Kingsolver's novels. Unfortunately I just couldn't find a connection to this one. I couldn't develop and depth of feeling for any of the characters nor with the plot, so definitely not a favorite for me.

The writing was, of course, really good and Kingsolver's style shone through. The current story and the story set in the past segued well and were relevant easily to each other. The only character I really liked was Tig - not that I connected with her, but she was interesting.

There are a great many social issues touched on in the book - healthcare, recycling, student loan debts, the job market - and they were relevant to the story to a point, but there was a little too much of a lecturing tone surrounding the issues.

Hopefully Kingsolver's next book will be better.
Profile Image for Lori .
95 reviews9 followers
May 5, 2018
Full disclosure: I am a Barbara Kingsolver fan.

Willa is supposed to "have it all." Married to a college professor, a writer herself, her children launched, life should be good...but it's not. Transplanted to New Jersey, she is jobless, her academic husband is wildly underemployed and her wayward daughter, her terminally ill, Archie Bunkerish father-in-law and an infant grandson who is NOT her daughter's child are all living under her roof. Roof barely covers it: the home, an inheritance, is a structural disaster deteriorating rapidly and repairs are astronomically unaffordable. Hoping to find the home has historic value, Willa uncovers the story of previous occupants also living in an era of societal upheaval tied to the rise of Darwinism and evolutionary theory.

Kingsolver takes on the rise of the service economy, materialism, middle-class disenfranchisement and anger, a labyrinthine health care system, immigration and the despair of feeling like you've made all the "right" decisions only to be left holding an empty bag. Ultimately, this is the story of the unraveling of the American dream, and perhaps a lesson that this dream must periodically unravel to allow the attendant disruption to move us forward.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,923 reviews35.4k followers
June 27, 2022
Audiobook…read by Barbara Kingsolver
…..16 hours and 38 minutes

Barbara Kingsolver has an inviting voice…. (first time I’ve heard her voice).
“The Poisonwood Bible” and
“The Bean Trees” were wonderful reading treasures: still memorable many years later…..
But I never finished her book, “The Lucuna”…
and it’s seems I’m tossing in the towel again with “Unsheltered”…

Appreciating an authors work, humanitarian is one thing —
yet in both books
I felt like I was reading Wikipedia half the time.
The beginning was good — but soon the ‘dullness-of-doom’ storytelling started to hurt my brain.

I’m in Capitola this week (beach town in the Santa Cruz)…. to rest, and hopefully heal some increased radiating sciatica pain.
This book wasn’t helping….

After laboring work to sincerely and passionately stay interested in the conflicts, and characters — I just couldn’t concentrate with any amount of personal comfort for my own needs.

A tosser 2 stars (for appreciation-not enjoyment)

Profile Image for Barbara.
1,318 reviews4,843 followers
December 1, 2021

3.5 stars

The town of Vineland, New Jersey - about 35 miles from Philadelphia - was founded by Charles Landis in the 1800s to be an alcohol-free community with pleasant homes, small farms, and enough space for shade trees and flowers.

This dual timeline novel, set in Vineland, revolves around two families who live on the same block 150 years apart.

In the 1870s, Thatcher Greenwood, his wife Rose, his mother-in-law Aurelia, and his preteen sister-in-law Polly move to Vineland to reside in the home where Aurelia grew up.....and which she's now inherited.

Map of Vineland, New Jersey in 1885

Parade in historic Vineland

Aurelia's fortunes dipped since her husband passed, and Rose 'married down' when she wed Thatcher. However the ladies hope to regain their status in society by acquiring the accouterments of success and socializing with Vineland's wealthy families.

Thatcher, who came from humble beginnings, is a scientist who got a job teaching 'elementary school' in Vineland - a job that doesn't pay near enough to support Rose and Aurelia in the style they expect. Moreover, the Vineland house is falling down around their ears, and there's no money for repairs.

In the modern day, Willa and Iano Tavoularis move to Vineland when their fortunes wane. Willa is a journalist whose magazine closed and Iano is a political science professor whose college shut down. Now Willa works freelance and Iano is an adjunct professor in Philadelphia, earning too little to get by and getting very minimal benefits.

Vineland in modern times

Vineland Christmas Parade in modern times

Willa and Iano led a peripatetic life chasing tenure for Iano - to the detriment of the family - and now have nothing to show for their sacrifice. In addition, their Vineland house is also falling apart, and - according to a contractor - almost unfixable. Willa tries to get the house declared a historic landmark, so she can get a grant to repair it, and she haunts the historical society in pursuit of her quest.

Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society

The Tavoularis household includes the couple's 26-year-old daughter Tig and Iano's father Nick. Nick is a traditional Greek patriarch whose legs are melting away from severe diabetes. Unlike Willa and Iano, Nick is a right wing bigot who loudly disdains minority groups and welfare recipients - and feels free to spout off in private AND public. Because of Iano's almost non-existent healthcare benefits Nick has to be put on Medicare, which the family keeps secret because the old man would blow his stack.

Tig is the polar opposite of Nick. She recently returned from a couple of years in Cuba, whose socialist society she greatly admires. Tig is an anti-capitalist who believes exploitative humans are ruining the planet. She's a proponent of recycling, upcycling, and dumpster diving.....even for food. Though Tig disagrees with her grandfather's politics, she's devoted to the old man and steps up when he needs diapers....or dressings for his constantly bleeding limbs.

The Tavoularis's also have a son Zeke, who aspires to be a business mogul in New York. Zeke is an unpaid intern with massive student loans who just had a baby with his girlfriend Helene. When Helene commits suicide, Zeke and his infant son Aldus (aka Dusty) are forced to move in with the family in Vineland.....but Zeke isn't really dad material.

Barbara Kingsolver's books unabashedly push her liberal views, and she infuses her beliefs into the characters and plot. For the record, I agree with Kingsolver's opinions, but still find her a bit too didactic.

In the 1870s, Thatcher is an open-minded scientist who admires his Vineland neighbor Mary Treat, a talented naturalist who corresponds with Charles Darwin and other great minds of the day. (Mary Treat was a real person.)

Mary Treat

Thatcher would like to teach his pupils about evolution, but Headmaster Cutler finds the idea horrifying and blasphemous. In fact, Cutler constantly preaches creationism, both in school and in public forums. Cutler's obsessive evangelism - purposely designed to shut Thatcher up - becomes almost comical.

Kingsolver also exposes the hypocrisy of Charles Landis, who created a community that profits mostly himself.....where young children are forced to leave school forever to help support their families. (Charles Landis was a real person.)

Charles Landis

Landis avidly endorses the local newspaper that touts his views and is infuriated by a rival publication. ("Fake news" anyone?)

In Thatcher's time, his wife Rose and mother-in-law Aurelia idolize Landis and won't hear a word against him. This view is diametrically opposed to Thatcher's and makes things awkward at home.

In modern times, Willa is horrified by a presidential candidate she calls "The Bullhorn" - the hatemonger who claims he'll make American great again; the loudmouth who denies climate change; the bully who says he can shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and people will still vote for him. Willa can't comprehend The Bullhorn's popularity, and despairs for the country. On the other hand, Nick the racist falls right in with The Bullhorn's views. (The Bullhorn is a real person.)

The Bullhorn

The parallels between Landis and The Bullhorn are obvious and - in a way - encouraging. Vineland survived Landis, and the country may survive The Bullhorn.

When Kingsolver puts aside politics she focuses on families, including the large Hispanic family that befriends the Tavoularis clan. There are all the usual permutations seen among kinfolk: love; loyalty; trust; distrust; sibling rivalry; sibling affection; infidelity; divorce; etc. This adds up to a compelling story, and there are even some amusing parts. For example, young Polly loves her dogs, Scylla and Charybdis, and her mother Aurelia 'can't find' the Bible passage that contains these names. 🙂

Scylla and Charybdis in Greek Mythology

And Iano's student Gwendolyn - who has a crush on the handsome professor - comes to his Vineland home to pursue him.....and Willa answers the door. 😕

Some of the best chapters are about the scientist Mary Treat. Mary studies living spiders she hides in jars with flowers, so they won't frighten her female friends.....and she lets a Venus Fly Trap suck on her finger for research purposes.

Venus Fly Trap

Finally, the trial of a character accused of homicide is riveting, and based on a true story.

All in all, a book worth reading.

You can follow my reviews at https://reviewsbybarbsaffer.blogspot....
Profile Image for Barbara.
268 reviews206 followers
January 31, 2019

I have been reading Barbara Kingsolver for years and I love her writing. As it has been noted in Goodreads reviews, recently she has gotten on a preachy kick. I first felt I was being given a sermon in Flight Behavior. This tendency to use a novel as a pulpit certainly continues in Unsheltered. Don't get me wrong. I am gravely concerned with the plight of the monarch butterfly. I am far from a Trump fan and global warming and climate change scare me to death. There is no doubt in my mind that our society is too materialistic and we are wasteful of our natural resources. My point is I feel BK could have done a better job weaving these concerns into the story. In the first one-third of the book it was blatant. After Nick's Trump rantings ended, things calmed down and a good story followed.

The problems of being sheltered or unsheltered are explored from many angles. The most common meaning of shelter is a form of protection, such as a building or a tax shelter. When someone is told they have lived a sheltered life it usually means they have been protected from the more unsavory realities of life. They are oblivious to things around them. Willa's inability to grasp the economic and societal changes, and in the story of Thatcher Greenwood, the people are equally unable to change and accept the scientific facts. People can't seem to change their beliefs today, and they couldn't in the last century.

Unsheltered means no protection. No home, no health insurance no better life, no rosy future for the planet. This book has the perfect title. Kingsolver does a beautiful job of weaving all the nuances of the word together.

Whenever an author uses two voices, or two time periods to tell the story, I find one is always much stronger and better developed. Willa and her family were realistic characters and many of their interactions were right on. The characters of Greenwood and Mary Treat were interesting, but the rest of that story, in my opinion, was weak.

I think this could have been a great book with minor changes. BK is a delight to read. I will continue to look forward to her books, and just hope she will tune down the preaching.
Profile Image for Lisa.
610 reviews231 followers
November 13, 2018
A masterfully written dual timeline narrative, with unique and well drawn characters.


Unsheltered is a story of two families, who lived near the corner of Sixth and Plum in Vineland, New Jersey over 140 years apart. Both families are struggling with financial, political and social issues of their times.

It’s 2016 and Willa Knox and her husband are in their 50’s and nearing retirement. They have worked hard, followed all the rules and have nothing to show for it, but debts and a house that is falling apart. Willa’s magazine has folded and her husband’s college where he teaches has closed. In their dilapidated home, is Willa’s politically conservative father-in-law, Nick; her free-spirited adult daughter, Tig; and her unemployed Ivy League educated son, Zeke; who recently experienced a tragic loss.

In 1870’s, Thatcher Greenwood is a high school science teacher with a passion for investigation. He finds himself in hot water when he attempts to teach the work just published by Charles Darwin. His young bride and social-climbing mother-in-law bristle at the risk of scandal, and dismiss his worries that their house is unsound. Thatcher’s friendship with a woman scientist, Mary Treat, and a renegade newspaper editor that threaten to draw him into a vendetta with the town’s most powerful men.

“I suppose it is in our nature,” she said finally. “when men fear the loss of what they know, they will follow any tyrant who promises to restore the old order.”

A creatively layered narrative of two families living in Vineland New Jersey well over a century apart. Both families struggling with the foundation of a dilapidated house, as well as the foundation of values of the time.

The 2016 storyline brings Trump’s election into play, as well as Obamacare, global warming and racism. The 1870’s story has it own similar tyrant. Charles Landis, a real estate developer and founder of Vineland, also wants to control the narrative of the press. When he is unable to do so, the newspaper editor is shot in the middle of Vineland’s main street. Other issues brought to light in the 1870’s storyline were the role of women, women’s right to vote, and the teaching of creationism versus evolution.

One of my favorite parts of the book was when Thatcher meets Mary Treat for first time, and finds her with her finger in a Venus flytrap hoping to determine the plant’s effect on human skin. I was not familiar with Mary Treat and enjoyed learning about this self-taught scientist. I also enjoyed learning about the creation of Charles Landis’s utopian community in Vineland.

UNSHELTERED was interesting and entertaining, but it was author Barbara Kingsolver‘s writing that carried the book. It was masterfully written and the characters were extremely well drawn and diverse.

“His confidence was enviable and maddening. Most of the time she didn’t want him to solve or contradict her worries, she just needed him to listen and agree with her on the awfulness at hand. This was a principle of marriage she’d explained many times.”

Publisher Harper Collins/Harper Audio
Published October 16, 2018
Narrated Barbara Kingsolver
Review www.bluestockingreviews.com

Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,113 reviews8,047 followers
April 28, 2019
There is so much to unpack here, and even though it could have been very heavy-handed, I appreciated the commentary and the way she weaved the stories together and analyzed modern politics in light of historical shifts in thought. I also really grew to love the characters; I could have read individual novels about each of the protagonists. Will definitely check out more of Kingsolver's works.
Profile Image for Marianne.
3,328 reviews128 followers
October 16, 2018
Unsheltered is the ninth novel by best-selling, prize-winning American novelist, essayist, and poet, Barbara Kingsolver. Now in her fifties, Willa Knox never expected to be living in a run-down house in Vineland, New Jersey, still the hub of a family that includes her two adult children, her new grandson, her debilitated, demanding father-in-law and an ageing dog.

Virtually unemployed, Willa is writing some freelance articles; her university professor husband Iano has a low-paid teaching job; her recently-widowed son Deke is juggling single fatherhood with setting up a personal financial advice company; her daughter Tig has abandoned college for protest action; her father-in-law Nick needs urgent medical care; and due to a lack of foundations, the house she inherited is literally starting to fall apart. Any sort of windfall, though not expected, would be helpful.

Some hundred and forty years earlier, Thatcher Greenwood has moved from Boston to teach science at Vineland High School. Newly married to Rose, he has taken on the responsibility of both his late father-in-law’s family and house. His bright young sister-in-law, Polly is a bonus, whereas Rose’s mother, Aurelia falls into quite a different category. The house is not as sound as Aurelia believes, and his teaching position is a source of great frustration, as the school’s principal undermines his every attempt to infuse his students with current scientific knowledge.

The timelines alternate between chapters with the events of the 1870s told from Thatcher’s perspective, while Willa narrates the story set in 2015/6. Kingsolver uses a clever device to bridge the chapter: the final words of one chapter form the heading of the next. Between the narratives, parallels and echoes abound, and not just the residency at 744 East Plum Street. And with them, Kingsolver deftly demonstrates that many of the challenges we think we’re facing for the first time are by no means unique or new phenomena.

Kingsolver is highly skilled at creating believable characters: she writes about ordinary people facing everyday challenges, and yet, the reader can’t help but be enthralled. These are people who face hardships yet still worry about the greater good, about their country and the world. Their dialogue is credible, their relationships, realistic, and while there is naturally some friction between certain characters, their interactions (between couples, friends, siblings, parents/children, in-laws) are often entertaining.

Kingsolver’s depiction of these pre-Trump-era characters who have made good decisions, doing the right thing and working hard all their lives, and still ending up effectively on the poverty line, is absolutely spot-on. Her analysis of the mindset of those who support Trump (who remains unnamed herein) is astute and insightful. “…we’re overdrawn at the bank, at the level of our species, but we don’t want to hear it. So if it’s not this exact prophet of self-indulgence we’re looking to for reassurance, it will be some other liar who’s good at distracting us from the truth. Because of the times we’re in.”

Kingsolver gives Tig the voice of caution, making her intelligent, perceptive and articulate. If some readers feel this has a preachy tone to it, well, perhaps that’s because nothing else has worked and the situation is truly becoming dire. But it’s not all doom and gloom: there are also plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in the conversations; and if those nations that consider themselves highly developed could take a leaf out of the book of a country that has had no choice but to curb their consumerism/materialism, then Cuba apparently has much to teach us all.

As always, Kingsolver’s descriptive prose is exquisite, and her love of nature is apparent throughout, as is her concern for the state of the nation and of the world. Again, she gives the reader an interesting, thought-provoking and eminently enjoyable read.
Profile Image for Liz.
1,964 reviews2,413 followers
February 3, 2021
When I was thirteen, my parents bought a farm that had been uninhabited for 20 years. The first architect my mother took to see it, handed her a pack of matches. So, when this book starts with a contractor telling Willa her house needed to come down, I felt a kinship. But at least my parents’ house had good bones (and they had the money to fix it up). Not this place. As we go back in time, we see other contractors deriding the house and it’s poor construction. And Willa and Iano lack the proverbial pot.
But the story is more than the story of a house. It’s the story of two families during two different time periods and all the trials they are handed. Financial insecurity being the main one for both. Willa has watched their finances fall down around their ears. Both she and Iano have lost their good jobs and now he’s relegated to a starter job all over again while she’s unemployed.
The earlier story covers the fight against Darwinism and a science teacher’s fight to keep his principles and his job. Thatcher, the teacher, also happens to befriend Mary Treat, who is a self taught biologist in correspondence with Darwin, Asa Gray and other forward thinkers of the day. Their friendship stands in contrast to his marriage.
The modern day story tells of multiple generations living together and fighting at every turn. Willa is truly a member of the sandwich generation (in her case, it’s probably a club sandwich.) Their arguments, mostly political, felt forced and heavy handed. Most of the time, this storyline just felt didactic and dull. And it’s not that I didn’t like the characters, I did. I felt they were fully formed and I empathized with them. I just truly didn’t like the writing, which often felt dull and didactic. Which is a hard thing to say because I usually love Kingsolver’s works.
The book has a lot to say about marriage, family, forgiveness, capitalism, the state of the world, and closed mindedness. I hadn’t realized that Mary Treat and Charles Landis were real people. I found the parallels between the politics of the two stories one of the more interesting parts of the book.
This was a book club selection and I’m willing to bet it’ll make for an o teresting doscussion.

Profile Image for Nat K.
408 reviews148 followers
February 9, 2019

"Sometimes the right thing isn't a thing but a person," "And that's me?" "And that's you."

A curious thing that I noticed about this book is that the last two words of a chapter form the title of the next chapter. Clever! That’s a nice quirky bit of writing. It took a while for this to sink in, around the Chapter 5 mark. I’ve no idea why it stuck out to me so much at that particular point. I’ve not noticed this style used in any other book.

The story revolves around one crumbling family home in Vineland, New Jersey. The house exists on precarious foundations (“renovators delight” = it’s falling apart). From this home, two family’s stories are told. The Greenwoods from the 1870s and the Knox/Tavoularis family in the present time.

"You can't shelter in a place anymore when there isn't a place."

I have to admit to having very mixed feelings about this book. I found the majority of it to be a hard slog to get through. Especially the first dozen or so chapters. I'd complain about it to anyone who would listen (and even to those who wouldn't!). But I finished it this morning, and now feel a sense of sadness at having done so, as the ending was quite bittersweet. And I loved the two characters that the final chapter was based around. Was it worth it to read so many pages of feeling ho-hum with little sparks of happiness to reach such a satisfying ending? I don't know.

There are some wonderful one liners in the book such as ”This town was a nest of acolytes & vipers.” & ”He's put the pride back into avarice.” Biting, observant wit.

There are also parts of the book which I enjoyed very much (such as the Knox/Tavoularis family going to see the Christmas lights in their neighbourhood, Thatcher Greenwood being called to give a speech about his beliefs in order to retain his tenure in the local school was brilliant, and the scandalous murder was an amazing bit of storytelling). But overall the beginning dragged on for me. I probably would have enjoyed the book more with some serious editing. "Less is more" is an apt credo. It was only towards the last quarter of the book that I felt more warmth to the characters and some empathy for what was going on in their lives.

I was surprised to learn that this book was based around true events that occurred. And that Mary Treat was indeed a real person, and a what an amazing one at that (she was my favourite character in this story).

A lot of interesting questions were raised, though much of the book felt like somewhat of a lecture. But what was the lesson supposed to be about? Was it a commentary on excessive consumerism, science versus religion, the state of the health system in first world countries, the general state of the world being in flux etc etc. I really didn't know what I should be taking away from it. It seemed to be an overload of ideas and messages.

It really is the ending of this book, particularly the final chapter that has the most bearing on my review.
Profile Image for Lou (nonfiction fiend).
2,771 reviews1,618 followers
October 22, 2018
Barbara Kingsolver has resided amongst my favourite authors for quite some time, so every time she publishes new work, I am there to read it! As always, her meticulously observed social commentary is on-point and thought-provoking, and although this is a work of fiction much of what is said relates to current real-world issues. If you are looking for a lighthearted, easy read, this is not it. However, if like me you enjoy ruminations on the big topical issues, then this is not a novel you want to pass on. Exquisitely written, with a cast of believable and relatable characters, this book has the same depth as her previous eight. Despite the characters facing many challenges and obstacles to overcome, her message is one of hope and inspiration but also manages to remain objective throughout. The infusion of humour interspersed in the dialogue throughout truly creates some hilarious and memorable moments and creates a contrast between the light and dark.

Amongst the topics explored are capitalistic societies, developed vs. developing countries, consumerism, materialism, the natural world, world politics/affairs (in particular Trump, the rise of populism and the current state of America) and finding a safe place in a world that is more dangerous than ever before. I have always loved the use of fiction as a device in which to explore prominent issues of major importance and no-one does it better than Kingsolver! Thought-provoking, beautifully flowing, with many parallels able to be drawn between events in this fictional world and those we are facing in reality. Another masterfully written and observed novel from Kingsolver, and another exceptional read!
Profile Image for Kathleen.
1,302 reviews119 followers
December 23, 2018
Expecting a warm and fuzzy, family-focused story in the Ann Tyler mode; I chose to read Unsheltered, a story about two different families living in the same house 140 years apart. What I got instead was a novel jam-packed with political overtones—the flaws of capitalism, the demise of the middle-class, the public’s disbelief in scientific advances [Darwinism in the 1870s; climate change today], the willful submission of the population to ‘oligarchs’, and our Byzantine health insurance system.

While the plot includes everything from a suicide, to a murder, to a public forum debating evolution, and so much more; the overall arc of the novel seems to drift. Kingsolver is at her best when she draws on her training as a biologist. Her descriptions of the natural world and the naturalist Mary Treat (an actual person) are engaging—that is, until they become over-long.
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