To Be Where You Are (A Mitford Novel)

Image of To Be Where You Are (A Mitford Novel)
Release Date: 
September 19, 2017
G.P. Putnam's Sons
Reviewed by: 

The magic of the good old days. There is a satisfaction that comes from thinking about the past: fond memories of family and friends, the close-knit community of a small town where everyone knows everyone else, people sitting on porches watching life pass by at a leisurely pace.

For Jan Karon, after having a vision of an Episcopal priest walking down a village street, the Mitford Novels were born in 1994. At Home in Mitford, Book 1, went on to be nominated for three ABBY awards, reprinted 80 times, and became a Hallmark Channel Original Movie. What followed was a 23-year run of 14 Mitford novels. Jan Karon stepped away from the series for nine years before adding three more books starting in 2014.

To Be Where You Are is the latest book in the Mitford novels. First, book 14 is probably not the best place to start as a new reader of the Mitford novels. This series does encompass a whole town, albeit a small one. There is a great deal of history that has already been covered in the previous 13 books.

The books follow the family, friends, and neighbors of the Kavanagh family in the small town of Mitford, North Carolina. To Be Where You Are starts with Father Tim Kavanagh retired yet yearning for a new challenge. Newlyweds Dooley and Lace Kavanagh along with the rest of the family are facing personal challenges at every turn. The Kavanagh family is joined by a complete cast of characters that populate Mitford with all their personal trials and tribulations. Will the rural charm of Mitford survive the encroachment of the modern world?

This latest novel opens its door wide with a colorful, inviting welcome mat ready. Even though the Kavanagh family is the main focus of the story there is a large cast of characters. They are introduced throughout the novel without much background or fanfare. The novel gives the feeling of having stepped into a family reunion where everyone is catching up, chatting about the most exciting bits from their lives.

Readers new to the series and starting with To Be Where You Are will want to go back and catch up with the townsfolk of Mitford. If they forge ahead with this latest novel, it will feel jarring at times. The scenes and character settings change without much warning, and most are not tied together in any discernable way. Experienced readers of the series will fall into this book with ease.

Jan Karon's emphasis in To Be Where You Are is on personal, private challenges and the small decisions that lead to answers. Since it is centered around a Christian family there is plenty of faith, prayer, and community to lean on and learn from. The strength in Karon's writing comes from describing the ordinary, everyday life. It all feels comfortable and familiar. Mitford is the town people would want to grow up in, to have family in, a community to turn to in times of joy and sorrow. It seems simple yet right away readers will be invested in this place and these characters.

Father Kavanagh is still making the rounds to visit some of his parishioners. One of them is Louella living at Hope House. They start talking about Miss Sadie.

"Every day, I miss th' one who raised me."

"Helped raise you from an infant," he said, fond of the story.

"Bathed an' dressed me, pulled me aroun' in that little red wagon, cornrow'd my hair. You never seen th' like of ribbons she tied in my kinky hair."

. . .

“He liked laughing with Louella. Maybe the best way to honor the deceased was to laugh with the living.”

Readers who appreciate a slow pace and comforting story about ordinary people will enjoy To Be Where You Are.