January 18, 1988 was a bitterly cold Iowa day. VICKI MYRON is not a morning person anyway and cold mornings are especially trying for her. As the new director of the Spencer Public Library, however, it’s her duty to open up. She’s puttering around as the rest of her staff arrives and then her colleague JEAN goes to empty the book-drop box. There she finds a tiny kitten so cold and filthy that Vicki can’t believe it’s still alive.
And so begins the story of Dewey, the small town library cat. It's no secret that I am fond of cats, orange cats in particular, but I don't as a rule, read animal stories. I was paid to read this one, however, as possible fodder for a movie, and it absolutely charmed me. Spencer, Iowa was a town that had fallen on tough times and this story of how the town rallied around the cat, how the library became a "third space" for the community, and how a scroungy little orange kitten became a symbol of hope is worth reading.
Another great book set in Iowa is Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres, which is a retelling of Shakespeare's tragedy King Lear. I'm fond of Shakespeare retellings--I'm currently reading Margaret Atwood's Hag-Seed, her version of Macbeth--and Lear has always seemed to me one of Shakespeare's most timeless plays. (It's kind of hard to relate to Timon of Athens these days.)
An unnamed town in Iowa is the unlikely setting of Grasshopper Jungle, a dystopian YA novel of survival after an apocalypse. Written by Andrew Smith, the novel won a couple of awards when it came out in 2015, and it is a styish, emotional, sometimes hilarious chronicle of the end of the world and a coming-of-age story. Smith's first novel was the equally well-received Ghost Medicine, another story of adventure and friendship.