BOOK REVIEW OF: Dinner with the Smileys: One Military Family, One Year of Heroes, and Lessons for a Lifetime by Sarah Smiley
Review by Greta Ulrich of the Niles Public Library
When Sarah Smiley’s husband, Dustin, a Navy pilot, announced to her that he was being deployed overseas for 15 months, she was filled with despair. Dustin wisely suggested that Sarah and her three sons invite someone new for dinner every week so they would have something to be excited about. Though initially Sarah was skeptical about the plan she grew to embrace it, as did her kids.
One of the first guests the Smileys had for dinner was Olympia Snowe, a senator from Maine. Ms. Snowe immediately put everyone at ease. She took Lindell, the youngest boy, and put him on her lap. Sarah had made lasagna for dinner, a dish that quickly becomes a staple for their weekly dinners.
Ms. Smiley is honest about herself and her mixed feelings about hosting these dinners. She says at the beginning of the book that she doesn’t particularly enjoy cooking or entertaining. And she has a tendency to withdraw from people, a quality that her husband knows well. There are times she feels alone and overwhelmed at all her responsibilities. She is also very honest about the difficulties she encounters every day functioning as a single parent, albeit on a temporary basis. She describes her loneliness as a single mom and shares her worries about getting it right with her sons. She movingly describes first meeting her handsome husband and how they fell in love and married and had their three sons. In addition to raising their sons, Ms. Smiley is a student at the local university working on completing her master’s degree.
The three boys mature and become more responsible during their dad’s deployment too. The youngest one particularly revels in the attention the dinner guests show him. Ms. Smiley observes that mealtime can be particularly difficult for those who are alone and resolves to make their weekly dinners with guests something the whole family will look forward to, as well as providing fellowship with their community.
This heartwarming book ends on a happy note when Dustin returns home and Sarah and her boys realize how much they and their guests learned from each other after the year of dinners. The boys have grown and matured in the year, and many of the dinner guests have become treasured friends of the Smiley family.
This book is available for checkout at the Niles Public Library District.