Prodigal Summer

By Barbara Kingsolver

102,387 ratings - 4* vote

Prodigal Summer weaves together three stories of human love within a larger tapestry of lives inhabiting the forested mountains and struggling small farms of southern Appalachia.From her outpost in an isolated mountain cabin, Deanna Wolfe, a reclusive wildlife biologist, watches a den of coyotes that have recently migrated into the region. She is caught off-guard by a youn Prodigal Summer weaves together three stories of human love within a larger tapestry of lives inhabiting the forested

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Book details

Paperback, 444 pages
October 16th 2001 by Harper Perennial

(first published October 17th 2000)

Original Title
Prodigal Summer
0060959037 (ISBN13: 9780060959036)
Edition Language

Community Reviews


Lots of different subplots that eventually intertwine, includes a love story too. She writes very lyrically, you'll want to savor this one. Nature / animal lovers will appreciate this one too. Something for everyone, this one is probably in my all time top 10 or 15 list.

2nd reading: This is not a book to read but a book to feel. It's a book you feel the truth and the rightness of, down deep in your gut.


I promise I could make you laugh if I showed you the comments my teachers made in my high school yearbook in my senior year.

From every language arts or creative writing teacher I ever had: The sky's the limit for you, kid!

From every science and math teacher I ever had: Marry rich, kid!

I often wondered what a conversation might have sounded like between the two camps, if they ever collided in the teacher's lounge. Half of them would have been surprised to learn that I was a candidate for a full ride scholarship for writing and the other half would have been surprised to learn that they believed pole dancing would be the highest bar I could ever achieve.

It's not that I don't love Nature; I do. I love it. I trip all over my own two feet staring at it, break into spontaneous poetry writing about it. . . I just don't want to study it. I don't want to know where the luna moth lays her eggs or why. Don't want to glaze over while a botanist explains why the green leaf turns red; I just want to savor the magic that it does, and I want to read Robert Frost aloud when it happens.

So, my first 4 attempts to read Barbara Kingsolver were rough. I kept reading her books and kept feeling disappointed by, well, my reaction of really disliking them. How could I not admire a woman who would dedicate a book to “wildness, where it lives?” How could I not love a writer who has spent her impressive career drawing attention to the damage we are doing to our planet?

I do love Ms. Kingsolver, I do. I love what she represents, love that she fights for our beautiful, natural world. That's why I've given her chance after chance. But, unfortunately, for four consecutive reads, I found her characters about as unrelatable as psychopaths in an asylum in the 1800s.

But. . . even though the protagonists in Prodigal Summer are also unrelatable to me, (lady scientists who think hair brushes are tools for collecting strands of DNA). . . this is the book that FINALLY worked for me.

Prodigal Summer is so stunning. It may be the greatest tribute that a novel has ever paid to a single season (two runners up may be Doctor Zhivago or Ethan Frome for winter) and it is a celebration of. . . well. . . procreation.

Everybody's doing it here, people: the humans, the moths, the coyotes, the snapping turtles, the salamanders, the birds, the flies.

I ruined my copy by taking it, twice, into a cold shower with me.

I never knew that blue-green algae could be so. . . sexy.

Physical pleasure was such a convincing illusion, and sex, the ultimate charade of safety.

I'm finally on board the Barbara bandwagon.

Turns out, she just needed to get dirty.


Ok. What gives, Kingsolver?
I have adored her work for years, and had this particular book sitting on my shelf for a long time unread. I picked it up to read recently, and went "oh yeah, that's why". i'd tried previous times to read it and couldn't "get into it". I'm usually a stickler for the "getting in to it" factor. if something doesnt hold my attention, or is downright fucking painful, within the first chapter, i have to ditch it.

but no. i gave Barb K the benefit of the doubt. i mean, she wrote the Poisonwood Bible, after all. i decided i'd read this entirely, even if it killed me.
it nearly did. it wasn't bad. i infact enjoyed it more and more as the LONG ASS story went on and on. very little plot. nothing really happening. lots of boring ass inane descriptions of nature that got really old really fast. her previously used narrative device of telling different stories with different narrators each chapter was annoying here. i found i only cared about 1 person's story, and didnt care about any of the other co-protagonists.
it was a book that was beyond slow, beyond tedious. it could've been told in 1/16th the length. i hate nothing more than books that're just taking up pages. Mind you, when you find books you love love love, you wish they'd never end. you get sad when it's finished.
this isnt one of them.
i put this book down twice and read other things, then brought it on vacation with me and slowly read it over a month. jesus, a month.
fhew, it's over now.
i'd love to hear from someone who actually liked it


I don't want it to end! :( There's still much life for these characters to lead and I want to be there for it! Although I guess it has to end somewhere...

The BEAUTIFUL NATURAL WORLD she gives - my kingdom to know so much and be so deeply involved in the real world around me. (This week, I met the wooly bear caterpillar and the granite spiny lizard at Mission Trails, both locals. I can't wait to meet more and learn about more. Thank goodness for parks and rangers - at least SOMEONE is maintaining this knowledge!)

Her writing is nice - she is especially beautiful describing plants and animals, and has a storyteller's voice for introducing them to humans. Her scenes are long and involved - no quick hits to make a point but no excess either. The pace matches the story. It takes TIME to know the world and is not something you learn in soundbites.

I want to live there. I want to be these characters and have their problems and flaws. My heart aches. Unreservedly 5 stars.


As usual in a Kingsolver book the writing in Prodigal Summer is just beautiful and the descriptions lyrical. It is a book to read carefully and slowly and just enjoy.
Several different stories run parallel and tie up eventually towards the end of the book. I found my interest in each story uneven and tended to rush the parts about Garnett Walker because I became tired of his constant, repetitive musings and I wanted to get back to Deanna or Lusa. However I never rushed any of their parts:)
The author has a very strong philosophy on life which always runs through her novels but in this one she does rather get on her soap box, and I did occasionally feel she was trying to brow beat me into submitting to her views (and I am already a believer!). For me this loses the book one star.
Nevertheless it was a lovely read with some charming characters, very human behaviours and a positive, hopeful ending.

Dorie - Cats&Books :)

This is the story of three sets of characters living in the Appalachians in Virginia. There is a woman biologist, a new wife, a sour old man and a wonderful "nannie".

As usual Kingsolver's characters are strong and exciting. Her descriptions of landscapes, animals and insects, etc are so impressive you can be there in your mind.

I loved this book and it's intertwining of lives. My only regret is that it wasn't longer.


Overall, a delightful, thoughtful and refreshing novel. I loved the pure joy, the contagious adoration, for nature — from top predators to insects to extinct trees to blossoming weeds — that shines through the pages. (My only real gripe with the book is that, on occasion, this love morphs into rather a preachy cautionary tale, or scolding—it could still have been powerfully ecological and progressive without the few soap-box passages.) Another message is the sometimes-lovely, sometimes-scary, ever powerful theme that no creature (including humans!) is ever as solitary as we may seem, even if we strive to be so. The characters are so vivid and "real." Worth the read if only for the "Old Chestnuts" section with the most endearingly stubborn and ornery old man you'll ever want to meet! I absolutely loved how the three "separate" stories wove together as the novel progressed, so that in the end it seemed everyone in the small town was tied to everyone else by the glorious web of non-solitariness among us. It's almost like a mystery story in the way that Kingsolver drops clues here and there as to how the connections will go—and once you know, you find all these little nuggets you didn't even notice at first. Very fun, in that regard. A really stellar story, a love-song to Nature and to Life. (Caution to some readers: While never very graphic and always respectful, there are a few passages that are definitely sex-charged--one of Kingsolver's points is how Nature is so fueled by sex, the desire to procreate--and that humans are also part of this.)

Another of the summer-themed books I'm cramming to read before summer ends! Thankfully, this one is at the library where I'm working for summer school (three weeks) and so it brings a bit of the brilliant summer indoors; if I have to work during summer, at least it's nice to have time to read about summer!

Jan Rice

This book is hot.

It's my favorite Barbara Kingsolver novel.

I came away liking coyotes. And grieving the American chestnut.


I first read Barbara Kingsolver maybe 10 years ago and really liked her. Since then, I've discovered authors like Edna Forbes and Alice Hoffman who also both have an interest in the lives of rural women, rich narratives and, sometimes magical realism. That said, Kingsolver is still very much at the top of this field. However, this book left me somewhat disappointed by the end for two reasons:

1. Big themes- without spoiling too much, the theme of this book is that evolution is always going on and that human beings are not the end product of evolution, just a part of it. Perhaps more importantly Kingsolver tries to remind us that evolution is a slow, long, adaptive process. Evolution rarely happens quickly, yet Kingsolver’s characters themselves go though rapid, possibly even radical changes, by the end of this book. Good stuff for drama, but inconsistent with some of the broader themes.

2. Narrative Structure- nonlinear storytelling is not accomplished solely through an unconventional conclusion (read: Hollywood happy ending/closure). Kingsolver ends her book in a kind of abstract manner, shifting perspective to some coyotes whose existence in the plot prior to the end point seemed added on. Many minor plot were left unresolved as the coyotes walked off into the Sun, This would have been fine if the rest of the plot has not been so plodding and attentive to every detail in each character's life, but it was.

The conventional tale paired with an aspiring, but unresolved ending, just felt incomplete.

Along the same lines, the interweaving of characters and narrative voices is great, but about 3/4 of the way through the book every main character had been connected to every other main character in a way that simply felt over the top and a bit trite. Like, we get it, it's a small community and these characters needed to have some kind of theme tying them together, but it got a bit silly by the final connection.

Despite these flaws, Prodigal Summer was a good read and brought up a lot of interesting ideas and themes. The dialogue was well written and engaging.

Leigh Statham

I think my favorite line of "poetry" from this book is "He made love to me like a farmer!" She then goes on to talk about milking cows and tilling the land while describing their love making. Maybe I've just known too many farmers in my life and found none of them in the least bit attractive. There is nothing romantic about the smell of manure on a man. And anyway, I think that line sums up the depth of this book pretty well. From the first chapter I knew I was in trouble when one of the leading ladies ends up doing "it" in the forest, in a log, with a stranger. Ugh. I kept reading just because I had heard such great things about her first book, but I was really disappointed. The plot never thickened beyond the farm lust and i just found myself getting more and more angry at her heroines. I can handle people in a book not making the same choices I would have made, but it has to be well written prose to keep me hooked. I actually returned this book to B&N because I couldn't stand to read the last four chapters and I seriously wanted my money back AND I didn't want any book on my shelf that had a line like "he made love to me like a farmer" in it. UGH!!!