‘SMALL TOWN GIRL,’ BY ANN GABHART. Review of the 2013 historical fiction novel set during WWII. All review text © Rissi JC

Living up to its name in the best possible way, I didn’t think a reader could be so charmed by a story that took place on the eve of a historical catastrophe, World War II. This book invests its readers, inviting us into a small-town Kentucky and leads its reader into a story that’s deeply poignant.

We follow the lives of Kate Merritt and her family along with newcomer, Jay Tanner (a guy, I don’t mind saying, completely wins me over as an all-American “good guy” hero). Telling the “grown-up” story of Kate (who features in Ann’s prior novel, Angel Sister), this book may not be a “sequel,” but it’s a kind of follow-up. I’ll confess this story doesn’t immediately (more later on for the reason why) capture me, and yet there’s something that beckons us to look beyond the surface.

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Ann Gabhart crafts a unique, sweet romance between the small-town girl and the would-be bad boy. There’s several “cute” flirtatious moments between them. Whether it’s Jay learning what it means to be a part of a family or the comical “tease” between he and Kate over the suggestion they’d elope, the book sparkles with personality. Before the last page comes, readers come to appreciate this novel as so much more than a “romance.” It has a deep heart. Emotional issues like alcoholism are confronted; it’s purpose to demonstrate the sacrifice certain characters make when loving someone so deeply.

Things I Don’t Like

The opening of the novel seems to drag on too long. What could have been capsulated in a shorter space seems to clog up the story. It’s accepted because what these first 75 plus pages do (which is incidentally the length of the first eight chapters and also the same event being written about) is cement the beginning of Jay and Kate’s relationship while also provides us with background on Kate’s once upon a time infatuation of Mike.

There are some cliché moments that lead to awkward misunderstandings, which I know some potential readers will be bothered by. However, I do feel as if most have traction, and are “acceptable” in their presentation.  


In its simplest form, this book is darling. Small Town Girl is a lovely story of family, faith and forgiveness. Since reviews are merely a reflection of the reader, I will also say that anyone who doesn’t enjoy courtships that seem underdeveloped between couples may not find this relationship “genuine.” I did, and appreciate the circumstances of their romance. The narrative opens up old wounds, and bonds new relationships. The end is unusually bittersweet but any other wouldn’t have the same emotional punch.

There’s a touch of fairytale, and makes for nice, albeit emotional results that all cumulates in a beautiful piece of historical fiction. It’s one novel I did almost give up. However page after page, it continually impresses, and I enjoy Kate and Jay as people. Small Town Girl is bittersweet, but good.

About the Book:

Author: Ann Gabhart
Publisher: Revell
Publication Date: 2013
Genre: Fiction; Historical
Shop the Book: Bookshop.org | Goodreads
Rating: 4 out of 5

With thanks to the publisher for providing a complimentary copy of this book for reviewing purposes.

About Rissi JC

amateur graphic designer. confirmed bookaholic. bubbl’r enthusiast. critical thinker. miswesterner. social media coordinator. writer.


  1. You've done nothing but convince me I'd still really like to read this one! :) Sounds like a pretty sweet story. And thank you for the warning about the slow beginning. I'll keep that in mind, in case I don't want to keep going when I finally get my chance to read it. :)

    1. Like we've talked about time and again, Kara fellow readers may not think the start slow, but I felt it could have been shortened a bit; that first section (8 chapters in) is entirely all about the same event and it was time to move on.

      Otherwise… it was a VERY sweet story. It was a surprise how much I enjoyed the story and that was nice. Let me know if/when you read it! As usual, I'd like to get your take on it. :)

  2. It actually sounds like a really sweet book! Though i try to avoid romance, I like the sounds of this one. =) Especially the sentence: '…come to appreciate this novel as so much more than a “romance.”' If I read a romance, I want it to be much more than a romance. =) So maybe someday I'll give this one a try.

    1. It was, Evelyn! The nicest thing about it was that there were some great familial moments woven into the "fabric" of the book so that, while Jay and Kate's relationship was probably the "main" focus, there are other equally important themes.

      If you ever read it, I wish you happy reading! :)

    1. Nice to hear I wasn't the only reader who thought that, Juju – sometimes I wonder at the elements I think are there. ;)

      Thanks for reading!

  3. I love that this is staged in small-town Kentucky! A great review, as always. I'm a little hesitant toward a bittersweet ending, but I'm intrigued that had it ended any other way, it wouldn't have made such an impact. Hmmm, I may have to read this one! :-)

    1. Any book that takes place in a good setting is more interesting – glad this staging intrigues you, Gwendolyn. :)

      As an ending, this one is good. I liked how it was handled since normally they are wrapped in happiness. Small Town Girl is also BUT there is a minor "darker" implication to it also because of its historical background. That being said, any other conclusion would have been way too "coincidental" and unrealistic. Glad Ann ended how and when she did. :)

      Let me know what you think if/when you read it.

  4. Great review!

    I agree, the book had a more "follow" up feel to it rather than a sequel. And, while I haven't read Angel Sister, that didn't detract from the story at all. :) I can't get enough of the small town setting. :D

    1. I've not read Angel Sister either, Rosie, however given the background Ann gave of that story while re-capping its past in Small Town Girl, I felt like this could be a "stand alone" or "catch up" title more than a sequel, proper. It was a beautiful story, that is FOR SURE. :)

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