Cover Image: Groundskeeping


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Member Reviews

Groundskeeping is a book that will hopefully introduce readers to unfortunate societal barriers and lend a voice to the ongoing conversation of racism and bigotry in today's America. Groundskeeping is a love story, not a neat and tidy love story, but a messy, thought-provoking and important love story that will leave the audience imagining the outcome of the story of Alma and Owen. I was not head over heels in love with this book, but enjoyed most of it and will look forward to seeing how it is received when it hits the shelves. Thank you NetGalley for this advanced eCopy.

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I want to thank Knopf , Emily Reardon and NetGalley for the ARC of Groundskeeping in exchange for a fair and honest review. Groundskeeping, by Lee Cole, is set in Kentucky in 2016/2017. Owen is living with his Grandfather and Uncle Cort, having drifted from family and jobs, with the thought of becoming a writer. He is now back in Ky, working at a local college as a groundskeeper, trimming trees and shrubs, in exchange for a small salary and a chance to take one class a semester in writing.He is not satisfied with his life, but he does not know what he wants. His parents are divorced, with both remarried.His stepmother is dying of cancer, his stepfather has lost his job. Owen meets Alma, a writer in residence at the college, and is drawn to her. Alma is a refugee from Bosnia who is also involved with a friend of Owen's. She is educated and has lived a different life from Owen. The relationship is set against the backdrop of the 2016 Election. It is not a political book, however, but one about a relationship, and about looking for meaning in your life. It is written as a series of vignettes, in a way, with bits and pieces of Owen's and Alma's life being explored . It is well written and engaging. I thoroughly enjoyed it

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Owen has returned home to Kentucky after losing his job as a groundskeeper in Colorado. He'd ended up living in his car while he looked for new work, but now he's camping in his grandfather's basement, also sharing the house with his disabled uncle. Owen finds a new groundskeeping job at Ashby, the local small college, where he's allowed to take a class for free. He meets Alma, a writer in residence, and he's on fire for her.

Owen's the first in his family to graduate from college. Most of the people in his family have "good" jobs in various plants involved with things that sound dangerous--various chemical plants, hazardous waste facilities.

Alma's family escaped from Bosnia with no money and no English. Her parents now live in Northern Virginia, both are doctors. They're culturally Muslim.

So what happens when they visit one another's families? Owen's huge hearted mom and stepfather who bend over backward to fix their car but deny that evolution is a fact? His father, whose wife is being eaten alive with cancer but who pulls herself up to be part of Alma's visit? Confederate flags fluttering everywhere? Their horror at her Muslim background?

Alma's parents are gentle and educated, live in a nice neighborhood, and only eat Bosnian food by request. They do not talk about what they escaped or the people they left behind. They put Owen and Alma in the same bedroom and take them to a museum.

There is no indication that there will ever be a scene where these families meet and like each other. In fact, Alma can't reconcile the man she knows with the druggie who lived in his car. He does thoughtless, hurtful things to his family that make you cringe. Where is this going?

This is a novel about many things, but for me the cultural divide is at the top of the list. I wish I had liked Owen more--and Alma, too, for that matter. "Groundskeeping" is worth reading more than once for the cultural phenomena it explores, Lots of rich discussion here for thoughtful book clubs.

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for sharing this title.

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This is the kind of novel that reviewers dream about, an absolutely charming novel by a debut author. I was totally engaged by the narrator, Owen, as he struggled to find himself and his voice. What does it mean to be raised in Kentucky? I think it not only spoke to me as a novel but as a glimpse at the cultural divide that is currently splitting our country.

Owen is a young man, with literary talent and ambition, caught between the world of Kentucky culture and the America of diversity and intellectualism. The NEW America is well represented by Alma, a talented writer from a worldly, immigrant family. As a reader I experienced the constant tension between the two worlds.

The author left me with a yearning to look up the fictional couple and find out about their future!

Thank you Netgalley for this very special novel.

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I really appreciated the chance to read Groundskeeping by Lee Cole; thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for sharing this book with me. This book is timely and for me welcome as I think many seek to understand identity and connection and moving on (or not) from family relationships, upbringing, and beliefs that are hateful and hurtful. This book takes on these themes of political ideologies in rural and conservative Kentucky in a way that is not negative but offers a chance to consider how a person might have to navigate a world where their family believes in things that the individual no longer, or never, fully embraced. The exploration of these experiences is portrayed within a relationship in an academic setting, a wonderful chance to show how education is not meant to indoctrinate but is instead a chance to meet new people, question ideas and beliefs, and to work to come into a stronger understanding of self and also a chance to learn how to vet and use information.

The writing style is one that really resonated with me; this is a work of literary fiction and that is a genre I really enjoy. This is a book about ideas, beliefs, and words; a well written story of Owen trying to understand that he can, and perhaps has, moved on from his family of origin within the context of a clandestine relationship with a writer in residence, Alma, from an immigrant family and a liberal background. The journey is one that many go through, understanding you can leave the past behind and that other relationships can and will have a profound impact on your sense of self. At the same time, the story also allows us to consider what it is like for Alma to learn to understand Owen and his strained family relationships and I appreciated that the author gave the reader the chance to see openness in this relationship and the ability to see people, not just beliefs or family background.

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While I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I'm not sure it was the book I thought I'd be reading based on the description. This is a novel more about the relationship between the main characters rather than a novel about how those characters navigate their families' differing beliefs. That being said, I think this was a refreshing read in a post-Trump world. I've found books dealing with rural/Republican America can be a bit too heavy handed and often treat Trump supporters as alien which I think is completely unhelpful and condescending. For me, Groundskeeping comes off as a more true picture of what life is like when you come from a family that believes in hateful things: you have to just get on with life rather than letting it destroy you.

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