Book Review: ‘The Last Chance Library’: A love letter to public libraries


Main character June Jones must leap out of her comfort zone to save her job and her favorite place in “The Last Chance Library.” (Photo courtesy of Goodreads)

How far would you go to save your local library? June Jones, library assistant at Chalcot Library and wallflower of epic proportions, will go as far as it takes, confronting corrupt councils, engaging in illegal sit-ins and – worst of all – dabbling in public speaking.

June Jones doesn’t get out much. Ever since her bibliophile mother passed away, she has spent all her time with her nose in a book — either at home or between the shelves at the library. When budget cuts threaten to close the doors of her beloved library forever, June and a cast of characters as varied as they are impassioned get ready to take on the formidable challenge of convincing the local council that their library deserves to remain open.

There’s just one problem. Because the council has the authority to close down the library at any point, June’s boss has forbidden her from taking part in any of the antics of the Friends of Chalcot Library (FOCL), a group of outspoken, fiery library-goers who are quick to denounce the council’s plan and stage public protests. To skirt the watchful eye of her boss, June has to aid the efforts in secret and face some of her biggest fears in the process.

The character development of the ensemble cast and the relationships June forms with them is the strength of this novel. Stanley Phelps, an old man who spends every day at the library, is the most endearing of the bunch, and the father-daughter relationship that blossoms between him and June is one of the most heartwarming parts of the book. There are also some unexpected laughs sprinkled throughout — including a diverted male stripper showing up at a library fundraiser. I dare not say more.

Sampson also renewed my love for my local library. It’s no surprise that I’m already a frequent flier at my hometown library, but after reading “The Last Chance Library,” I made a beeline for the fiction section and grabbed enough books to raise eyebrows at the checkout desk. This book reaffirms the communal aspect of public libraries — it depicts the library as much more than a place to check out books. It’s a place for people to learn, gather with friends and find peace and quiet.

I have one major bone to pick with this book: I get frustrated when characters are caricatures of the tropes they embody, and there is no bigger example of this than June Jones. There were a few times when I rolled my eyes at the portrayal of the shy bookworm. People who like books can be fun, shy people can go on dates and have friends and grieving people can still have enjoyable experiences. It felt like June was only one thing throughout this book: shy. She grows throughout the book in a satisfying way, but this part of her personality fell flat.

If you love your local library and heartwarming stories of growth, pick up Freya Sampson’s “The Last Chance Library.” Just don’t expect a new spin on the timid main character trope.