It is a rare first-time author who creates a novel with characters of such emotional depth, subplots that twist around and build on each other, suspense that steadily increases and a conclusion that is both sad and just. That rare author is Matthew Sullivan and the book is “Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore.”
Lydia Smith’s mom died during her birth and her dad, Tomas, was left to raise Lydia with no concept of how to be a parent. Tomas was an introvert who was more comfortable with a book than interacting with people. So he brought Lydia, first as a baby and later as a toddler, to the library with him.
Luckily, the tiny branch of the Denver Public Library, with its own community of book lovers, adapted to the presence of Lydia riding on the shelves of the roller cart and enticing patrons to read to her. When Lydia reached school age, her dad sent her to the Little Flower Elementary Catholic School. When he picked her up at school, he noticed that she was always alone, so he was relieved when she began a friendship with Raj Patel and Carol O’Toole.
All went well until Lydia had an overnight at Carol’s house. While they slept in a blanket tent they had constructed, a man broke into the house and killed Carol and her parents; Lydia survived by hiding under the kitchen sink. She made news headlines when her dad carried her outside wrapped in a blanket. She was dubbed “Little Lydia.” To avoid the horrible memories of that day, Tomas moved them to a little cabin in the mountains and took a job as a prison guard. Reality for both of them changed in sad and dehumanizing ways.
Finally, Lydia, lonely and distraught, ran back to Denver where she took a minimum wage job at the Bright Ideas Bookstore. She loved the quiet, messy store where she shyly looked after the lost, lonely regulars she called BookFrogs.
When Lydia’s favorite BookFrog Joey committed suicide in the history section of the store, Lydia’s grief was overwhelming. She found out she was the sole heir of his few belongings and was shocked to discover Joey left her secret messages. He had cut out tiny blocks of paper from one book that could only be deciphered by finding a book of matching size and exposing words in the second book to form messages.
Author Matthew Sullivan worked for years in bookstores in Denver and Boston. He is married to a librarian and teaches writing, literature and film at Big Bend Community College in Washington State. “Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore” may be found at several branches of the Cabell County Public Library.
Hazel Palmer lives in Huntington and is an avid reader.