‘Giving Quilt’ returns to Elm Creek series roots

The Giving Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini

When most readers start a book series, they start at the beginning. That wasn’t the case for me when I discovered the Elm Creek Quilts series by Jennifer Chiaverini. I was still a relatively new quilter when I came across “The Cross-Country Quilters” on the shelf of my local library.

The third novel in the series followed a handful of Elm Creek Quilts campers as they met, shared their struggles and maintained a strong friendship over great distances and difficulties thanks to their quilting bond. Maybe its because I profoundly influenced by my sorority sisters – a group of confident, headstrong women, who knew what they wanted in life and how to get it – but the idea of women connecting and supporting each other through life’s difficult times resonated with me and I devoured the rest of the series.

The “Giving Quilt,” the 20th novel in the series, reminds of the first book I read that made me fall in love with Elm Creek Manor and the strong women who take on life’s challenges with grace and poise.

The novel follows five campers who are at Elm Creek Quilt Camp during Quiltsgiving, a week when campers can stay free of charge, but all the quilts made will be donated to Project Linus. Chiaverini is a long-time supporter of the organization that makes quilts and blankets for children in need. You can read more about her involvement in my interview with her when “The Wedding Quilt” was released.

We meet Pauline, a 911 operator who uses quilting as a sort of escape from her stressful job. But recently a difficult member of her talented and exclusive guild has made her retreat just as enervating as answering an emergency phone call.

Then there’s Linnea, a librarian whose husband has been out of work for quite some time and is facing severe cuts to the city budget and radical protesters who want to shut the library down because it stocks classics, like “The Lord of the Flies,” that just also happen to contain content they find offensive.

Then we meet Michaela, a college student who is recovering from an injury that may, or may not have been accidental when two male cheerleaders dropped her while she was trying out to be the first female mascot in school history. I identified with Michaela the most, not because of her cute perky self, but because some of the campers questioned whether or not Michaela could actually sew. She can and is actually quite good. She mastered mitered borders in junior high.

The saddest story is Jocelyn, who lost her husband in a tragic accident a year-and-a-half earlier. Now she’s adjusting to life without her husband while raising two teenage girls and trying to filler her husband’s very big shoes.

Lastly there is Karen, who we actually met in “Circle of Quilters” as a candidate to replace two of the founding members of Elm Creek Quilters. Who can forget the image of the poor women who went through an entire interview with a Cheerio stuck in her hair without knowing it? Now Karen is working at a local quilt shop and loving the opportunity to teach even though difficult economic times present a constant challenge.

Chiaverini does a wonderful job of creating strong women full of depth and painting their lives and struggles with rich detail. However, unlike in “The Cross-Country Quilters” where the lives of the women become intertwined throughout the year as the friendships grow, we only see a glimpse of interaction between the women in the short week at Quiltsgiving. It’s the interaction, friendships and, at times, disagreements between the women of Elm Creek Manor, that make them endearing, and that key component is far to brief in “Giving Quilt”.

Did I enjoy reading “Giving Quilt”? Absolutely. Would I recommend it to other fans of the series? Of course. Is it my favorite novel Chiaverini has written. No, but it is pretty hard to top “Sonoma Rose”. Still I’m looking forward to reading more of Chiaverini’s novels and am already counting down till the next one comes out.

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