“Cottage by the Sea” is the newest offering from New York Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber. Known for writing novels with “compelling relationships that embrace family and enduring friendships, uplifting her readers with stories of connection and hope,” the author delivers yet again this time around.
“Cottage by the Sea” features Annie, a new graduate looking forward to all that life has to offer in Los Angeles. That is, until her family (mother, father, brother, sister-in-law and niece) are suddenly and tragically killed during a natural disaster. Struggling to make sense of the tragedy and figure out what to do next, she returns to Oceanside, an adorable vacation destination in the Pacific Northwest, because of the happy memories she had there with her family in the past. Once there she meets Keaton, a shy local painter and handyman with a huge heart; Mellie, the angry and reclusive landlady; Preston, a veterinarian and long-time friend to Mellie and Keaton; and Britt, the sweet teenager at the coffee shop. With the help of all these people, she learns to heal.
At first blush, this was an easy-breezy summer read – perfect to disappear with while on vacation at the cottage or beach. However, when I scratched beneath the surface there were a number of really powerful messages embedded in the sweet story.
I was struck by the complexity of each of the primary characters, their challenging circumstances, and their care for each other in spite of their own suffering. Everyone had something that they were working through – Keaton was bullied and had an abusive father, Mellie was betrayed by her partner, Britt and her boyfriend accidentally got pregnant. And yet, they each were still able to offer love and compassion to others. For example, Mellie cared for sick and abandoned animals when Preston’s clinic was too full and Keaton brought groceries to Mellie because she was too afraid to leave her house. These simple acts of service were a strong reminder that we all have something to offer, regardless of our circumstances. The tight-knit friendships and community that formed as a result of these acts was truly moving.
I was also reminded about the powerful influence of your physical environment. When Annie first returns to Oceanside after many years away, she is flooded with visceral memories that are anchored to her surroundings. Additionally, she repeatedly returns to the beach and the waves crashing on the shore when working through particularly strong and complex emotions. She chooses to stay in Oceanside because the environment there makes her feel grounded and connected.
Cottage by the Sea does an excellent job of reinforcing that while we can’t control what happens in our lives, we are each able to influence our surroundings, build a community and selflessly offer what we can to others. This book is a heartwarming reminder of the power of personal choice and the joy and love that is available to all as a result.
Amy Kellestine is an educator, engineer, Arati life coach and entrepreneur living in Edmonton, Alberta. She spends her free time camping, gardening, and volunteering for causes such as Cystic Fibrosis and nature conservation. She is a devoted mother and is passionate about helping others and writing.