Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny

This book feels like a light-hearted , warm novel, which it is, funny and closely observed but it is so much more than that. If you are looking for a roller-coaster of a plot this isn’t what you will get. What you will get is a sharp look at love in its many forms, found families, friendship and small towns. The main protaganist, Jane, is a teacher of young children and the descriptions of her classrooms are spot on and very funny. The whole description of the first day of the year lasts for two and a half pages – was the author ever a teacher?

During her first two years of teaching – one in Grand Rapids, one in Battle Creek – she had made the first day of school as fun-filled and exciting as possible: extensive school tour, scavenger hunt, time capsule, extra recess, dance party, LEGOs, working with clay. The result had been that both Jane and her students were hollow-eyed and slack-jawed with fatigue by three-thirty, and no one remembered where the bathroom was the next day anyway.


It’s so true!

Anyway, Jane meets Duncan and falls deeply in love with him even though he is a man that seems to have slept with most of the women in the small town and isn’t ashamed to discuss it with the women he meets.

Freida sighed. “It’s just that he’s had an awful lot of girlfriends.”

Isn’t that to be expected, though?” Jane asked. “He’s forty-two, after all.”

I think he’s had enough girlfriends for, like, a lot of forty-two-year- olds,” Freida said. “Maybe even for a lot of eighty-four-year-olds.


Eventually, they get married after a significant event in the town and take in Jimmy, a man who is unable to cope by himself. Jane them becomes friends with Duncan’s first wife, Aggie, there is her mandolin playing friend and others. Each character is so well drawn that you end up liking and rooting for them all. The only unlikable person is Jane’s mother, a thoughtless and irritating woman that has Jane embarrassed most of the time but even she is believable.

The book is a study in what it means to love and be loved. The description of Jane trying to get her youngest daughter into the car who is having a complete melt-down is wonderful. She finds an old, squashed bag of marshmallows and offers one to Patrice , moving further and further away as Patrice walks towards them until she finds herself inside the car with a marshmallow. Just like you do with dogs when you are trying to get them to do something. It is this kind of love, exhausting and always on edge that is present in the book as well as romantic love.

You needed romantic love to be happy—it was right up there with garlic bread.

Do you? I am not sure about this but it is an interesting thought.

The ending was not quite what I was expecting but it does illustrate the idea that things happen over time and that sometimes just to love someone and show them that is enough.

What a great book and a book for book club I think. Heiny described the book as being about the bargains we make in the name of love and everyone in this book has in some way. Heartache is the companion of love and this book shows that too.

Questions that I might ask are:

  • What bargains did each character make in this book for love? What about Jane’s mother? Would you make some of those bargains?
  • What is the significance of the title?
  • Did you find the book funny? Can you read us a section that you did?
  • Do you think you need romantic love to be happy?
  • This is also a book about a small town. Which elements do you think depicted that best?

I see that the book is free in the Kindle edition if you have Prime on Amazon. Go get it!

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