Big Stone Gap



  • Big Stone Gap : a novel / Adriana Trigiani.


Publication Info

  • New York : Random House, c2000.



  • 0375504036; $23.95


  • 272 p. ;


  • Hardcover
  • Large Print
  • Paperback
  • Compact disc
  • eBook
  • eAudiobook


  • Women’s fiction
  • Southern fiction
  • Romantic comedy


4Q; 5P

Reader’s Annotation

Ave Maria Mulligan’s life is turned upside down when her mother dies and a family secret is revealed.


Ave Maria Mulligan, 35-year-old town spinster, has spent her life trying to blend into the background. When her mother dies, a family secret is revealed that shakes Ave Maria out of her comfort zone and causes her to begin a quest to discover who she is and what she wants out of life. In turn, her quest shakes up her small village of Big Stone Gap, with life-changing consequences.

Big Stone Gap is southern fiction with an Italian twist, with all the quirky characters that implies. There is Fleeta, Ave Maria’s chain-smoking, professional wrestling-loving pharmacy employee; Theodore, the genius high-school band director who is also Ave Maria’s best friend; Iva Lou, the bookmobile librarian who loves men; Pearl, a shy teenager who undergoes a metamorphosis; and Jack, the good-looking, courageous miner looking for his life-long love. Add in Ave Maria’s Italian family, and you get a wonderful mix of characters who help Ava Maria through this difficult transition in her life.


The author grew up in the real town of Big Stone Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. This comes through in the authenticity of the setting and the lives of the characters. Trigiani creates a strong sense of place and of home, along with some memorable and well-developed characters.

Loss, both good and bad, is a major theme of this book. Ave Maria loses her parents, then her  touchstones for who she has always believed she was. She is even threatened with the loss of her home and livelihood through the machinations of an angry relative. Several other characters also deal with loss and letting go. Yet through the novel, they and Ave Maria find that letting go can be freeing, even transformative.

Big Stone Gap is full of heart and humor. It has an easy, enjoyable pace, yet gives the reader something to think about. It is also the first in a series, so if you get attached to the characters, you will be able to follow them through further story lines.


Visit the author’s website.

An interview with the Bookbabes in Good Housekeeping

New York Times interview



Publishers Weekly


Appeal Factors

Fans of heartwarming women’s fiction/romantic comedies will enjoy this book. Also appealing to those who love a small town, southern setting.


The Peach Keeper, by Sarah Addison Allen. These novels share the genre women’s fiction/romantic comedy and a southern, Blue Ridge Mountains, small town setting. They also both feature independent heroines dealing with family secrets.

Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven, by Fannie Flagg. Both novels feature independent southern women and quirky small towns. Both deal with existential questions in a funny way: Who am I? Why am I here?

Series readalike: Lisa Wingate’s Carolina Heirlooms novels. Both series share the genres women’s fiction and southern fiction and have a strong sense of place. Both authors write heartwarming stories with a generous dose of romance.

Booktalk Ideas

This book is character-driven, so descriptions of the unique characters would make a good booktalk. It could start with Ave Maria, and explain her relationships to Fleeta, Theodore, Pearl, and Jack.

Discussion Questions

Why did Ave Maria’s mother keep her secret so long? How did Ave Maria feel about the revelation? How would you feel about discovering such a deep family secret?

Ave Maria seems totally unaware of Theodore’s sexual orientation, as does he throughout most of the book. Why do you think this is? How does the setting of time and place play into this?

Why is Ave Maria so blind to Jack’s feelings for her? What finally brings her around? Have you ever experienced being in either of their positions regarding love?

Who was your favorite character and why?

Why I chose this book

I liked the small town, southern setting and the name of the lead character–Ave Maria Mulligan.

Other Information

This is another book that has been made into a movie. It stars Ashley Judd as Ave Maria and Whoopi Goldberg as Fleeta. The book is better!

Memory Hooks

Ave Maria Mulligan, Blue Ridge Mountains, coal miners


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