Life has been tough for Heath Wellington III since his mother walked out on him and his father, Heath Wellington, Junior (aka Junior). Junior is a recovering alcoholic with failed literary aspirations, and he seems to take all his frustrations out on Heath. He shows very little affection toward his son, makes him do chores when he isn't in school, and forces Heath to wake up at 6:00 in the morning, even during vacations and holidays. It's even worse when Heath is wrongly suspended from school and his father believes that he really did cheat on the history test. But then Heath's grandfather (aka Senior) dies suddenly, and they travel to Massachusetts to attend the funeral and to fulfill the stipulations of a very unusual will: they must manage Senior's bed and breakfast inn for three months, as well as fulfill a host of other stipulations.
At the inn, Heath works out his punishment for the school suspension by doing almost all of the chores. At the same time, he meets a motley assortment of characters. There's Winsted, the elderly man who used to lead the prayers at Senior's factory. Then there's Mustang Sally, a tattooed ex-convict who works as a mechanic and a children's author. Carter, the very quiet Harvard graduate who spends his time watching the news, and Mrs. Farrel, a woman giving away her late husband's fortune. As Heath works on the farm and gets to know these people, he finds new ways of living and new ways of looking at life. Unfortunately, Junior continues to serve as a harsh and unyielding taskmaster, ignoring his son for the most part and shirking his responsibilities at the inn. Readers will wonder: will Junior ever change? Will we learn why Heath was suspended from school? Will Heath and Junior ever have a good relationship? Will they be able to keep the inn? Do they even want to?
On the whole, I really enjoyed reading this book. The story of a father and son's struggle is classic and always relevant, and Tim Whitney breathes new life into this telling. He has also created some truly memorable characters and offered insights into human nature with "The Three Kinds of People" and the "Secret Garden." It's a nice read that you can easily get through in a few sittings but packs quite a punch at times.
My only real criticism is based on the end of the book. This is going to be hard to explain without spoilers, but here goes. I know that the author could only write so much or the book would be too long, but I almost felt that the resolution came too quickly, that the characters changed too fast. I would liked to have seen more development in that area so that the ending seemed a little more possible. As it stands, it's not impossible, but I do wonder if it would have actually happened that quickly. I think the author, in the afterward, attempts to address this issue, but a better solution would have been to develop this part of the plot further in the main body of the book.
That being said, I really did like Thanksgiving at the Inn. I can see it being popular with older middle grade and younger high school students. I think boys might be more drawn to the book, but girls can also relate to the parent-child struggle portrayed in the book. I would love to see more from Tim Whitney in the future. Maybe a sequel?
Book received from the publisher for review