The Sentence

This literary ghost story (400 pages) was published in November of 2021 by Harper. The book takes you to a bookshop in Minneapolis. Melissa read The Sentence and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.

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The Sentence

Louise Erdrich

There’s a fantastic bookshop at the center of this story. A bookshop that’s loved fiercely and tinged with magic. But even that cannot prevent real life from intruding in significant ways. This is not your sweet, cozy bookshop story.

Our heroine and narrator is Tookie, a middle-aged Ojibwe woman. Her story begins when she helps a friend move a dead body across state lines. It’s a colossally bad idea, and the scene is very, very funny. As you might expect, Tookie gets caught.

Although she’s sentenced to 60 years in prison by the ‘lips of a judge who believed in an afterlife,’ a good lawyer negotiates her early release. Given that books helped her survive her incarceration, she takes a job at a small Native American bookstore in Minneapolis (modeled on the real-life Birchbark Books, owned by the author Louise Erdrich, who is a supporting character in this story).

As Tookie fumbles through her days, we get to know her, the store staff, her lovable husband, and a handful of quirky customers, including Flora.

Flora is a frequent customer, a white lady who claims Native heritage. Tookie calls her a ‘very persistent wannabe.’ When Flora dies on All Souls’ Day in 2019, her spirit refuses to leave Birchbark Books and begins to haunt Tookie. Over the following months, Tookie devotes herself to figuring out why Flora can’t (or won’t) move on. Then 2019 turns into 2020, and the outside world invades the bookstore. The Covid pandemic hits, and George Floyd is murdered in Minneapolis — and we are in it with Tookie and her friends.

Literature has a long history of grappling with the nature of haunting, trying to discern if it’s of a supernatural or emotional variety. This gorgeous, affecting book has both.

Although Tookie isn’t always lovable, you will love her. Her moods tumble through states of humor, toughness, vulnerability, fear, and affection with high velocity. Although her relationships with her husband and coworkers are never easy, they are saturated with deep affection and sharp dialogue. Not for nothing, working a shift at Birchbark with Tookie would be a hoot.

If you need another reason to pick it up, this book about a remarkable bookshop is full of other books. We’re introduced to Tookie’s bookishness when she describes how a dictionary got her through incarceration. She continues to drop book titles like literary confetti throughout the story. A handy appendix called ‘Totally Biased List of Tookie’s Favorite Books’ compiles them all into a list of several years’ worth of excellent reading.

Dissatisfaction is a hunched, sinewy, doggedly athletic Black man in his seventies. We see him running slowly around the lake and yet when he enters the store his tracksuit is immaculate. Today he wore the navy blue one with orange stripes, plus a black parka over the thin jacket… ‘What’s new?’ He stood in the entryway, glaring, belligerent. I glared back at him, furious that he’d interrupted my communication with Flora. Beat it! I’m talking to a dead customer! But I didn’t say that. I relented. By way of the fact he was impossible to please, Dissatisfaction was one of my favorite customers. — Louise Erdrich

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