Book Review: The Coffins of Little Hope by Timothy Schaffert

15 Apr

Genre: Literary fiction

Publisher: Unbridled Books

Pub date: 19 April 2011

Source: Publisher via NetGalley

This is not a book I immediately “got.” But that might be because I went into it expecting a heartbreaking story about a little missing girl and life in a small town. The Coffins of Little Hope is so much more and really not about a missing girl at all.


The story follows the adventures of Essie, an 83-year old obituary writer in a small town. Her son, Doc owns the newspaper that has also been printing the best-selling YA series Miranda-and-Desiree, which is the town’s secret claim to fame. The town and its people get catapulted into the public eye when a resident of the town, Daisy, is devastated that her 8-year old daughter Lenore has been kidnapped by her photographer boyfriend Elvis.


The entire story is narrated by Essie and she is a delightful character to get to know. Her attitude to life and her work is unique. The story deals with the missing girl, Lenore, the difficulties of running a newspaper in a small town (Essie’s family has owned it for generations), and her rather eccentric family.

Like I mentioned, this is not a straightforward story – it is more a satire and a commentary on journalism, media, how we assimilate pop culture and the way people react to/take advantage of certain situations.

The town already has its share of drama with the final book in the very popular YA series being secretly printed in the town’s newspaper press. When a little girl goes missing (leaving no trace of herself behind), the media circus starts and spirals.

Like in a magic show (also a part of the story), while the audience is distracted, the trick happens, voila!

This is a short little book, but manages to discuss so much. And the tone is light and tongue-in-cheek, so even heavy topics are not depressing. It’s something I have to read again, because I’m sure that there are nuances that I have missed.

(Did anyone else think that the “Lenorians” – the cult that grows around the girl who disappeared – was a nod to the Ellen James Society from The World According to Garp?)

“Did Lenore really exist?” is question at the heart of the story. Was she a figment of Daisy’s imagination? And did the fires of media build her out of nothing into a towering sympathetic symbol?

Other main characters like Doc (Essie’s grandson) and Tiff (her great grandaughter) are absolutely memorable. Doc loves to perform magic tricks struggles to live up to his father’s reputation as a journalist. Tiff is one of those rare teenagers that I actually liked.

I haven’t done justice to this layered story, but I do heartily recommend it.


Highly recommended. Don’t expect a linear story; this is a delightful little book with many layers and depth. And I’m definitely going to be reading Timothy Schaffert’s earlier works.

Rating: 4.5*

*See my Rating policy

Do you agree with my review, or do you think I’m way off? Just want to say hi? Leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

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3 Responses to “Book Review: The Coffins of Little Hope by Timothy Schaffert”

  1. Stephanie @ Read in a Single Sitting April 15, 2011 at 11:25 am #

    The title of this caught my eye immediately, and from the very first line of your review I knew this was one for me. I think I’ll have to get on Netgalley and get a copy for myself. 🙂

    Thank you for your thoughtful (as always) and considered review!

    • stargazerpuj April 16, 2011 at 11:06 am #

      🙂 Yes, pick it up. I think you’ll love it. I plan to pick up the paperback when it becomes available here.


  1. 2011: Bookish Snapshots « Stargazerpuj's Book Blog - December 30, 2011

    […] Bible by Barbra Kingsolver Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick The Coffins of Little Hope by Timothy Schaffert An Atlas of Impossible Longing by Anuradha Roy A Passage to India by E.M. […]

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