Willie Upton is coming home to her small town after her personal life has taken her off the tracks. The small up-state New York town of Templeton is not somewhere she comes back to often. She’s been away at college and left the small town and her youth behind her. But now, she has no choice but to crawl home with her pride and confidence shattered after a calamitous affair with her archeology professor.
Templeton is a small town full of history and haunts. On the day Willie arrives home, a fifty-foot-long monster is pulled from the lake. This event, along with Willie’s personal life, send her spinning.
To top things off, Willie’s mother tells her that the story of how she came to be is not exactly true. Willie has been told since she was a child that she was conceived in a hippie commune in San Francisco before her mother returned home. Now, she finds out she’s actually the daughter of a Templeton man, but her mother won’t tell her who. Willie sets out, with her educated research skills, to discover her true origins. Digging through the town’s sorted history and her ancestors, she discovers more about Templeton than she ever thought there was to find.
I loved “The Monsters of Templeton.” It’s a book of family secrets, historical research, soul-searching and mystery. Willie is a perfectly-crafted character. She’s witty, intelligent, caring and complex. The adult mother-daughter relationship in the book is perfectly balanced with love and rebellion and humor.
Groff spent much time and energy producing an entire town history and genealogical lineage for Willie. The book is scattered with historical photos of Willie’s ancestors and an increasingly complex family tree.
The town of Templeton is based on the real town of Cooperstown where Groff grew up. The historical character of Jacob Franklin Temple, Willie’s direct descendant and a great American novelist, is based on the real life James Fenimore Cooper, who also wrote about Cooperstown but renamed it Templeton. In the author’s note at the beginning of the book, Groff explains she wanted to write a love story for her hometown. She more than accomplished this, even if everything is not exactly true history. She perfectly captured the quaint town with Bed and Breakfast inns, life-long residents and a small-town feel.
There’s no real way to fully describe this book because it has so many layers. I can only say that this incredible debut novel will take you on a journey through American history, family history and personal history. “The Monsters of Templeton” is a wonderfully written story, full of monsters, both literal and metaphorical, with a touch of mystery and family bonds thrown in for good measure.
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