South of Superior

South of Superior

by Ellen Airgood


View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Wednesday, February 20

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781594485763
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/01/2012
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 522,836
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Ellen Airgood runs a diner in Grand Marais, Michigan. This is her first novel.

Read an Excerpt


Excerpted from "South of Superior"
by .
Copyright © 2012 Ellen Airgood.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Connie May Fowler

“A story that is peculiarly American, brimming with lessons about compassion and community. South of Superior is not to be forgotten.”--(Connie May Fowler, author of Before Women Had Wings)

Philip Caputo

“An unsentimental but warm-hearted view of life in an isolated Michigan town. Reminiscent of Richard Russo, South of Superior is an engaging tale told with wit and charm.”--(Philip Caputo)

Beth Hoffman

“South of Superior is a charming story where hardships forge character, friendships endure for decades, and love unfolds in unusual ways. Most of all it is a celebration of the ever-surprising strengths of the human spirit.”--(Beth Hoffman, New York Times–bestselling author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt)

Lesley Kagan

“"I was captivated by Ms. Airgood’s setting and her characters, they’re pitch pefect. South of Superior is a wonderful debut novel. I couldn’t get the story out of my mind even weeks after I put it down. It was that haunting, that heartfelt. Brava!”--(Lesley Kagan, author of Whistling in the Dark)

Tiffany Baker

“A heartfelt ode to the simpler things in life. You’ll be delighted and embraced by the strong willed characters and the small town setting and when you’re finished you’ll want to go embrace the people in your own circle.”--(Tiffany Baker, author of The Little Giant of Aberdeen County)

Reading Group Guide

When Madeline Stone walks away from her Chicago life and moves five hundred miles north to the coast of Lake Superior, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, she isn't prepared for how much her life will change. Charged with caring for an aging family friend,

Madeline finds herself in the middle of beautiful nowhere with Gladys and Artubus, two octogenarian sisters—one sharp and stubborn, the other sweeter than sunshine. As she is drawn into the dramas of the small, tight-knit town, Madeline learns that it's a place where times are tough and debts run deep, but where friendship, community, and compassion run deeper.

A debut novel full of heart, South of Superior shows that there is a deep reward in caring for others, that one who is poor in pocket can be rich in so many other ways, and that happiness often comes from the smallest gestures.


Ellen Airgood runs a diner in Grand Marais, Michigan. This is her first novel.

From Waitress To Writer

I grew up on a small farm, the youngest of four children. My father was a blacksmith and a schoolteacher. For the last nineteen years I've been a waitress in Grand Marais, Michigan. I was twenty-five when I came to this tiny, Lake Superior town, on a camping trip with my sister, and fell in love with the man who made my cheese sandwich and chocolate malt at the local diner. We met, exchanged assessing, almost challenging gazes, and six months later we got married. I told my sister we would, on the way back to our campsite that first day. "You're crazy," she said worriedly. But pretty soon she grinned, shook her head, started getting into the spirit of it. "Well," she said. "This is going to be interesting." And it has been.

I've never been sorry. My husband Rick and I run a diner together, a job which is always consuming, often punishing, and hugely fulfilling. Most of what I know about maturity and compassion, not to mention story, I've learned from waiting tables. We work eighty to a hundred hours a week together almost year around, and one way or another we've faced the constant barrage of setbacks and frustrations and equipment failures that restaurant work is, the high stress and long hours. There is so much satisfaction in it, though: the goodness of hard work, the joy of feeding people a meal they love, the delight of long friendships, the pride in a job well done. All kinds of people come here from all kinds of places, and we get to meet them, to hear their stories, and pretty often we get to make them happy for the time that they are here.

This is the route I took to becoming a writer. I didn't get an MFA or study writing in school. I could have learned about life anywhere, but fate brought me here, to the end of the earth and a tiny town that time forgot. My customers have given me good practice as a storyteller, too. It's a matter of survival. If I can entertain people, draw them over to my side, they won't murder me when I'm the only waitress of the floor and the cook is swamped and the wait is long and we're out of silverware and I didn't know the fish was gone when I took their order.

  • Gladys always tells Madeline how much of an outsider she is, how much she doesn't understand the ways of McAllester. By the end of the novel do you think Madeline is a part of the town? In what ways has she let the community of McAllester transform her? In what way has she transformed the community?
  • Throughout the novel, Madeline is looking for a sense of purpose, for something to guide her life. At the end of the novel, do you think she's found that sense of purpose? What do you think it is? How is it different from what she was expecting when she first came to McAllester?
  • Change is a major theme of the novel, and yet so much of what both Gladys and Madeline love about McAllester is how the town follows an older way of living. What kind of changes happen in the novel? Which character do you think is the most changed by the end?
  • While Madeline and Gladys are deeply stubborn people, Arbutus is more likely to be adaptable. Do you think this makes Arbutus any less strong than the other women? In what ways is she just as stubborn? What do you think Madeline learns from Arbutus's way of getting her own way?
  • Think about the Bensons. Do you think that they are wrong to want to improve their business? What could they have done to be more in keeping with the community? What does Madeline learn that they do not?
  • Values are important to all the characters in the novel. How are Madeline's values different from Gladys's? Paul's? What do you think Randi's values are? The Bensons? Think about yourself. Which character do you feel most similar to?
  • At the start of the novel, Madeline takes an immediate dislike to Randi while Gladys has more patience for her. What do you think Gladys sees that Madeline does not? Think about how Madeline and Randi's relationship changes. How do you think Madeline's increased knowledge both about herself and about her history changes how she feels about Randi?
  • We never get to meet Joe Stone or learn why he gave Madeline away. What do you think his motivations were? Do you think he made the right choice? How did his giving Madeline away make her more like the Stones?
  • Life in McAllester is hard. Why do you think Madeline ultimately chooses it over returning to Chicago? What virtues do you see in it? What qualities would you want to emulate in your own life?
  • The novel ends on a note of anticipation. What do you think will happen to the characters after the book has ended? How do you think what Madeline has learned will help her handle future hardships?
  • Customer Reviews

    Most Helpful Customer Reviews

    See All Customer Reviews

    South of Superior 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 69 reviews.
    harstan More than 1 year ago
    Gladys Hanson sends a sympathy card to Madeline Stone following the death of Emmy the woman who raised the latter. Madeline's biological mother Jackie abandoned her when she was two years old and her late maternal grandfather Joe refused to raise her. Gloria also invites Madeline to move from Chicago to McAllister, Michigan to help her with her arthritic ailing sister Arbitus "Butte". Although Gladys was Joe's paramour, Madeline accepts leaving her job and boyfriend behind. Gladys proves unfriendly, but Butte makes her feel at home. At the general store, Madeline meets pizza parlor owner Paul Garceau who also cooks at the nearby prison. The sisters argue over seeing the mothballed Hotel Leppinen they own as they have no money. Gladys sends Madeline to the hotel to get something. Madeline loves the hotel and thinks of possibilities. She goes to the pizza shop and asks for a waitressing job. Paul hires her. Gladys is upset but Butte is pleased with Madeline obtaining a job. Single mom Randi dumps Grey on Madeline at the pizza shop, but fails to return. Madeline takes Grey home with her. Later Madeline learns from Mary about her Great Uncle Walter who lives in a home for simple minded people; she visits him. As Madeline tries to renovate the hotel, she angers seemingly everyone except Butte; so considers leaving. The key ensemble cast especially the heroine, her "great-aunts" and to a lesser degree her beloved is all developed while a sense of being in Michigan is a key element that anchors the plot. The reason Paul becomes angry with Madeline seems weak though critical. Still readers will enjoy South of Superior, as Madeline and the audience learn what family means. Harriet Klausner
    millstreetreader More than 1 year ago
    If your mother had abandoned you in a soup kitchen at age three and your grandfather had refused to raise you, what kind of adult would you be? How would you react when years after your grandfather's death, a stranger asks if you'd be interested in relocating to the isolated village where your he had made his home? Would a deep hidden anger and yearning for answers prompt you to leave behind a sophisticated fiance and the bustle of Chicago for a life as uncertain as the weather on the greatest of all lakes? Author Airgood has created a town peopled with strong, but flawed characters, each one adding to Madeline's unfolding understanding of her heritage and her future. Ellen Airgood's small town has outlived the grandeur of the mining and logging days, just as the real small towns that dot the UP's shoreline. You won't find the opulence of earlier times, but you'll find that "sisu" (Finnish for courage) still abounds. This book will offer much for book clubs to discuss, and as someone for whom Lake Superior has an almost mystical pull, South of Superior has demanded that I make yet one more trip to its shores.
    K Reeve More than 1 year ago
    Remeniscent of the old TV show Northern Exposures, South of Superior is a tall drink of ice cold lemonade in an eccentric forgotten town where its inhabitants share a peculiar brand of small town love and devotion. Amazing read.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I have not finished this book yet, but wish I could sit down and do nothing else but read. Having spent time "south of Superior" growing up, I have some insight into the area and its history. That said, you do not need any prior knowledge to enjoy and appreciate this book. Well-written with multi-layered/faceted characters, I love how the storyline is evolving. Worth spending time with!
    VirtuousWomanKF More than 1 year ago
    Sit back, relax and enjoy a sweet story for a great summer read. This past week, my husband and I went to Grand Marais, Minnesota, along Lake Superior for a relaxing vacation. I had seen this novel and decided that it was a perfect time to read, South of Superior by Ellen Airgood. The setting for this novel is much like the atmosphere and countryside of where we were staying. It is a beautiful place with the back drop of Lake Superior. I was very surprised at the slow the pace of life and how few tourists invaded their local. Such is the story of "South of Superior." The novel is a little slow and off beat but very true to the area that it is written about. The locals are friendly, caring and reliable. Richness in friendships is the wealth they rely upon and one to be most treasured. Sit back, relax and enjoy a sweet story for a great summer read.
    jessinvab More than 1 year ago
    Fantastic summer read. The characters are perfect for their flaws and failures, and the cast of supporting quirky characters are loveable. I loved every second and was sad that the book had to end.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    i adore this book. Wonderful bonds between the characters. Great story about hardships and getting thru struggles. Waiting for the next book by this new author.
    donnareads911 More than 1 year ago
    Engaging. Set in Michigan, comes a story of Madeline, alone in the world and making her way back to this simple, very "old school" town, to care for an ailing friend. Yawn! Didn't think this would hold my attention,however the characters grow on you and reel you in. This is such a simple but warm and fullsome book. I didn't want the story to end. And for sure, I want more from this author!
    AmeG More than 1 year ago
    Ellen is the kid sister of my best friend from high school, and so I bought this book to be "supportive." I began reading and found that I could not put it down. It was a wonderful surprise that the characters were solid and the story was compelling. I got involved with the story and the characters and really ended up caring what happened. Ellen's style is light and respectful, and I can see how the experience she has as the owner of a diner has made it's mark on her writing. She didn't press her characters to do things but allowed them to make their own decisions. She didn't judge. Her characters and story developed and blossomed in their own time, and the story was not too short or too long. I would highly recommend reading!
    mjmutch More than 1 year ago
    I really enjoyed getting to know all these characters and I am sorry the book is over. I am from the UP, so I had to read this. And I find it to be so true to the lives and interests and sheer difficulty of making a life in in the UP. Very well done.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This is a perfect summer read! An excellent book, and the author leaves us wanting a sequel.
    Alie on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    South of Superior is a heartwarming tale of a young women who takes a risk to find her roots. Although, slow at the beginning, committing to finishing the book is well worth it. Madeline is a lovable, relatable character and her story about finding "home" and the journey that leads her there is touching and warm. I very much enjoyed this novel.
    amanderson on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    Great sense of place, set on Lake Superior, Michigan in a poor, tiny town, all bleak and cold and pounding waves with icebergs. A quite well written debut novel about a young-ish woman, Madeline, who is restless in Chicago and searching for something more than her pleasant life, waitress job, nice, well-off professor fiancee and the prospect of a cozy Victorian house and art school. In fact she's "a serviceable, capable person with a heart like a volcano, one that was spewing forth a lava of rage and confusion and grief" after her elderly adoptive mother Emmy passed away. She's got some unresolved issues about her birth family. She's also not one for the comfortable, unchallenging life. When she receives a letter from an elderly family friend with whom she's unacquainted, asking her to be a caregiver for her sister, she actually accepts. In that poverty stricken town, she just may be able to find the sense of family and connections for which she's been longing.
    artisu on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    Ellen Argoods novel South of Superior is a lovely easy read. The characters are believable and lovable and the story of Madelines "finding herself" is thoughtfully and realistically written. There are a few errors in grammar and word usage, but overall the book is well written. I found that the plot was somewhat predictable, but I found enough unanswered questions to keep my interest to the end. Well done. Good summer read.
    schoolnurse on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    I was excited to snag an early copy of this book as part of the early reviewers program. I love that the book is set in a small town in upper peninsula Michigan since I have family who live in the area. The story was believable and I love the portrayal of the hardships, gossip and sense of community this town had for those in need. I would recommend this book to others and plan on sharing it with people in my book club.
    nightprose on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    Sometimes it takes a lifetime to realize where ¿Home¿ is, that perhaps ¿home¿ was never really a place but rather a part of us.Though her roots were technically in the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) of Michigan, Madeline Stone was detached from hers. Having been rejected by her grandfather and abandoned by her mother, she ended up in Chicago, Illinois.When a lifelong friend of her grandfather needs help, Madeline is drawn back to the place of her birth and that of her family¿s. Her reservations are many, including her unresolved feelings regarding her grandfather.The beauty of the land attracts tourists, and the area residents live for them, knowing they rely on that as a necessary source of income, just to survive year to year, as Madeline learns. The roots run deep here, generation to generation. Loyalty runs deep, as well. Loyalty to the land that supplies them, maintains them, defines them. This loyalty is the driving force of the people in this small town, South of Superior. Through years of relationships, times both good and bad, the people held strong, united by beliefs and values.In this place of wild beauty, with its rich history rooted in its people, land and lore, Madeline is surprised to find purpose, and peace of both mind and heart. She finds love in its many forms and ages. South of Superior is strong in character image and voice. While the ways of the people are not necessarily simple, they are genuine and hard-earned. Both characters and setting feel all that a ¿hometown¿ should feel. Ellen Airgood has beautifully captured the Upper Peninsula of Michigan that I know and love. This book will stay with you, as well it should.
    janiereader on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    I won this book as an early review, and I have to say I really enjoyed it. I believe this is the author's first book, since I don't see anything written by her in WorldCat, and I think she did a great job. The story was well laid out, the characters interesting, believable dialogue, and she developed in me, the reader enough interest to keep reading. Her tone and styling was reminiscent of Maeve Binchy. But where Binchy brings her recurring characters to life in Ireland, I imagine Airgood being able to do the same in an upper-Peninsula, Michigan setting. Madeline Stowe leaves Chicago to help out the elderly sisters, Arbutus and Gladys in a small town near Lake Superior. Woven into the plot is family secrets, romance, and a sense of self-discovery. I would recommend this as a good, relaxing summer read to all!
    ReviewsbyMolly on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    I really loved Ellen Airgood's writing style and her debut novel. It is truly hard, after reading this one, to think that this is a DEBUT novel. But, alas, it is and it is an enjoyable one. The characters, the plot, the passion the author puts forth in creating it, is all amazing and one I would love to sit down and start all over again. I really enjoyed reading Madeleine's story. She really gripped me and pulled me in. She started her life over when she told her grandfather's old girlfriend that she would move in with them and help care for her elderly sister. It took a lot for her to make that decision, especially after the way her grandfather was, and what she thought of him, not to mention after years of working at the same place, and being engaged. But, realizing she didn't really want to be married, she took Gladys up on her offer, packed her bags, grabbed her cat and left. Once there, amongst Gladys and Arbutus, Madeleine is learning the value of friendship and the meaning of helping. Mixed in is a little bit of suspense with some secrets and twists.I definitely think this novel is worthy of 5 stars. I highly recommend it to all those looking for a fun read this summer. It's full of witty, charming characters, written by a talented new author. I am looking forward to many more stories like this one by this author. Her next book can't come soon enough for me! Well done, Ellen!
    pdplish on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    So, I was laid up recovering from back surgery and this book came in the mail. It was like a quiet little gift fro me. Starting with the letter asking to come north to care for her grandfather's girlfriend's sister and all the loving but quirky characters who live in this story, Madeline Stone carved out a new life for herself, full of love & all the unexpected pitfalls, Messy as the book says, that life offers. I so enjoyed this book that I want to share it will all my book loving friends.
    tanya2009 on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    I won this book on Librarything. The author did a good job with the characters. The book has friendship, love and a whole lot of human spirit. I highly recommend reading it.
    TooBusyReading on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    No heroes or villains, exactly. Just people who'd done what they'd done, too late to change any of it, and in the end that wasn't the worst news in the world.That quote pretty much sums up this book. Madeline leaves Chicago for a tiny town in Michigan when a crotchety, elderly woman asks her to come help with her sweet, elderly sister who needs a little assistance. Madeline has been at loose ends but this woman was her grandfather's lover. And grandfather never wanted Madeline after she was abandoned by her teenage mother. So...lots of baggage before the story really gets started.This is a sweet novel, all about the characters who remind me a little of Southern Lit, even though the South in this book is pretty far north. Although things happen, there isn't a lot of action. It's about a little, old-fashioned town bucking the changes that newcomers are bringing, old versus new, tradition versus progress. It's about lost souls figuring out where they belong, or even if they can belong. And it's about finding strength where it is not expected.For me, the plot was a tad predictable and the story moved a little too slowly. Despite that, it is a sweet summer read (the descriptions of winter along Lake Superior will cool you off) for readers in the mood for a feel-good story filled with interesting people.Thank you to the publisher for giving me an advance uncorrected proof. The quote may have changed in the published edition.
    tomgirl571 on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    Ellen Airgood's stunning debut, South of Superior, is a book you won't want to miss. Madeline Stone feels very alone in the world after her adoptive mother passes away, so when she gets a letter in the mail from her biological grandfather's girlfriend Gladys asking if she'd be willing to move to a small town in Michigan to help care for her sister Arbutus, Madeline decides to go with it. She finds herself in tiny McAllister, on the coast of Lake Superior. As Madeline settles in, she slowly becomes acquainted with the town's inhabitants and their way of life, and she starts to feel more and more like a local herself. Even though most of the people in McAllister have little or no money, they teach Madeline that happiness can come from the most unexpected places.South of Superior is absolutely beautiful, and I had a really hard time planning this review because I know I won't do the book justice. Airgood's writing is fantastic and I found myself lost in her descriptions. She captures the small town and its inhabitants perfectly and I felt like I was right there with them. It actually made me want to move to a small little town in Michigan because it felt like home. I connected right away with the characters too, especially Gladys, Arbutus, and my favorite, Mary. Mary and Gladys especially are very tough women who have been through a lot. They may not seem very likeable, but the reader still loves them. They grew up in hard times, and those hardships made them who they are.South of Superior paints a portrait of life's ups and downs. I love it because nothing is magically resolved. Instead, throughout the story, the characters are just trekking through life, just trying to make ends meet. However, there IS hope, even if there isn't money. This story is heartwarming but not sugarcoated. Life is very hard for these people, but they ACCEPT their lives and all the twists and turns that life brings. Madeline has to learn this herself-to accept what she has and to be happy and grateful for what she has, instead of dwelling on things she can't change.
    ethel55 on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    Abandoned as a toddler, Madeline Stone heads north to care for an old family friend after the death of her foster mother. The UP of Michigan is remote, and the town of McAllaster is small, but rich in a variety of characters. Sisters Gladys and Arbutus really set the stage for the type of independent oldtimers that populate the town. The story took a little while for me to get into, but I enjoyed the ensemble cast very much and the descriptions of the hardscrabble life many of the townspeople came from and continue to live.
    swivelgal on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    Well told story of life without overly dramatic tragedies. The story follows a close knit community living in a village on Lake Superior (100 miles from the nearest movie theater). The characters are faced with decision on whether to move to larger cities, whether to live around family, and whether to relive their troubles through the lives of a young person going through the same thing. I recommend this book and will read it again.
    kimlord on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    I'm always a bit leery of debut novels. That proved to be not necessary with this gem. A novel full of quirky, but yet not cartoonish characters, an interesting and nearly inspiring setting and pitch perfect story telling. The author managed to write about small town life in such a clear and honest way and without judgement of that way of life, I will certainly be looking for more from Ms Airgood. I highly recommend this novel.