“Welcome to the Pine Away Motel and Cabins” by Katarina Bivald— Finding Happiness

Bivald, Katarina. “Welcome to the Pine Away Motel and Cabins”, Sourcebooks, 2020.

Finding Happiness

Amos Lassen

Katarina Bivald’s “Welcome to the Pine Away Motel and Cabins” introduces us to a ramshackle roadside motel and gives us a heartwarming story of love, friendship, community, and the art of living, even when it’s already too late.

The Pine Creek Motel has had better days. Henny thought  it was charming, but she’s the kind of person who always sees the best in things. Now, she has decided that she is not going to let a tiny thing like death stop her from living a full life especially when her friends and family need her the most.

After her funeral is over and she is buried, Henny is still around. She doesn’t understand why but she realizes she has one last opportunity to help her friends discover the happiness they had had once before they lost the motel and cabins they’ve loved for years.

Now you might think that a book about death, grief, love, regrets, hope would be depressing, but this is not the case here. I actually found this to be an uplifting and fun read. There are so many funny, touching, sad, and happy moments in the novel and the sadness I felt was because I finished reading it. Here is a story of love and loss and learning who we are that is filled with empathy and compassion.

Henny is killed by a truck as she is crossing the road in the woods of Oregon but she doesn’t and sort of clings around or doesn’t fully die. Rather she watches her friends and father live their lives as they try to get over her death.  In fact, her death becomes a way for her friends and father and the entire town of Pine Creek to look at what they believe in, rediscover love and what family means, and rebuild their community and home. they love.

As the book begins, it seems that there is not much of a story here— a girl dies yet she stays around and watches the life she could have had as it continues  without her.  The storyline shifts from Henny to her father and the people of the town.  This happens when once Henny accepts her death and stops trying to find a way to come back realizing that she still has some work to do for the town and people she loved. 

The plot includes LGBTQ characters and themes giving representation to gay, straight, trans and queer characters) and looks at the struggles that these characters have had to deal with have had to deal with including nasty remarks and attitudes because of who they are. This allows us to think about our lives  and what could be if we suddenly died. We see that we can all love one another regardless of differences and life is all about love.

The prose is wonderful and the settings and character development is excellent all around. I love the way that writer Bivald depicts the impact of homophobia in a small town setting and its long-term impact on the gay community.

While Henny was powerless to soothe or interact with  the characters, she manages to have things go the way she wants. Her death causes a long feud between some of the townspeople and the staff at the Pine Away and  we feel the courage, love and understanding it took for things to work out. We have burning tempers but love trumps all. We see that a single person can affect the lives of many and that second chances do exist.

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