This is a hard book to rate, because it is chock-full of flaws, yet I fell hard for the main character. Alma is the only character in this book who is given any depth at all. Retta is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl ratcheted up a couple of notches (yes, she is every bit as annoying as that description sounds). Prudence is an enigma until she becomes a cliche of a different sort. Henry and Ambrose and the minister are all straight from central casting.
But Alma comes alive. At least she did for me. I don't know quite what to make of Gilbert's insistence on Alma's physical unattractiveness--I kept wondering whether someone as smart and interesting and passionate as Alma could really be as ugly as Gilbert repeatedly tells us that she is. But I loved Alma's desire to know how everything works--everything, from her mother's accounting system to the growth of plants to the human heart. I loved that she seemed to have a perfectly productive and content life, most of the time, without being hung up on romance. I loved that there weren't a lot of scenes showing her longing for a husband and children. But most of all, for reasons I can't quite articulately explain, Alma felt very much like a real person to me and twelve hours after finishing the book, I am still trying to figure out how to manipulate the space-time continuum so that she and I can hang out and talk about moss.
There are so many problems with this book--so many things I don't like: Prudence's story, from beginning to end. Retta's story, from beginning to end. The character of Tomorrow Morning. The fact that Tomorrow Morning is named "Tomorrow Morning." The way Gilbert seems to just give up in exhaustion rather than coming up with a coherent, sensible ending. But I loved Alma, and for that reason alone, the book felt worth my time.