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A Quiet Life by Ethan Joella
Contemporary fiction

A Quiet Life

by Ethan Joella
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Quick take

Consider this life-affirming story about loss and community the cup of hot cocoa you need to make it through winter.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MultipleNarrators

    Multiple viewpoints

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Inspirational


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Sad


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SuburbanDrama

    Suburban drama


Set in a close-knit Pennsylvania suburb in the grip of winter, A Quiet Life follows three people grappling with loss and finding a tender wisdom in their grief.

Chuck Ayers used to look forward to nothing so much as his annual trip to Hilton Head with his wife, Cat—that yearly taste of relaxation they’d become accustomed to in retirement, after a lifetime of working and raising two children. Now, just months after Cat’s death, Chuck finds that he can’t let go of her things—her favorite towel, the sketchbooks in her desk drawer—as he struggles to pack for a trip he can’t imagine taking without her.

Ella Burke delivers morning newspapers and works at a bridal shop to fill her days while she anxiously awaits news—any piece of information—about her missing daughter. Ella adjusts to life in a new apartment and answers every call on her phone, hoping her daughter will reach out one day.

After the sudden death of her father, Kirsten Bonato set aside her veterinary school aspirations, finding comfort in the steady routine of working at an animal shelter. But as time passes, old dreams and new romantic interests begin to surface—and Kirsten finds herself at another crossroads.

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Why I love it

I fully believe in the healing power of the holiday season—wearing a scarf breeds empathy, I’m convinced. Every year I commemorate the season with a novel that reminds me of the resilience of the human spirit. Enter A Quiet Life, the perfect antidote to a biting wind and a cure for all existential ennui.

When we first meet our three lead characters, they are experiencing deep emotional strife. Chuck, a recent widower, can’t bring himself to throw away any of his late wife’s belongings. Ella, reeling in the wake of her daughter’s disappearance, is just trying to make it through each day. Kirsten has put her grad school plans on hold and wonders whether she’s allowed to seek out joy after her father’s sudden death. As these people’s lives cross in unexpected ways, we are reminded of everything there is to live for—the smallest connections that see us through our dark winter nights.

A Quiet Life argues that everyday life can be incredibly moving, and I am more than happy to buy into this idea. Ethan Joella makes such careful observations about the way we interact with our environments and those we love, how easy it is to touch someone with kindness. This book made me think differently about how I move in the world, and I suspect it will have the same transformative effect on you.

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