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Off the Shelves: Friendship Bread has a sweet but familiar flavor
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‘Friendship Bread'
Written by: Darien Gee
Price: $16.95
Rating: Four out of five bookmarks

 

Darien Gee’s newly released novel, "Friendship Bread," compiles the accounts of the various residents of small town Avalon, Ill., and how they are brought together through an "edible chain letter" called Amish Friendship Bread.

When Julia Evarts, a stay-at-home mom still grieving over her son’s death from five years ago, finds a Ziploc bag with the starter batter and the printed recipe for the bread on her doorstep, she initially wants nothing to do with the enigmatic gift.

But her 5-year-old daughter Gracie wants to bake the bread and pass along the subsequent leftover batter at school, which leads to a connecting series of events that go far beyond just passing along the dough and the recipe.

This seemingly simple pastime comes to change not only Julia’s life, but that of Hannah, a 28-year-old professional cellist going through a painful separation from her husband; Madeline, the elderly owner of Madeline’s Tea Salon who lives alone after the passing of her husband; Livvy, Julia’s estranged younger sister who wants nothing more than to become part of Julia’s life again; and Edie, a determined freelance reporter trying to make her mark in the world of journalism.

As these women come to know one another through the sharing of the Friendship Bread, they also come to share their experiences, their pains and their love. All of Avalon finds out how the power of giving can bring out the very best in everyone.

This novel has the familiar theme of women bonding through a common craft or hobby, much like Kate Jacobs’ "Friday Night Knitting Club" and Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’ "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society." Gee’s story is as sweet and sugary as its titular pastry, mixing in the various pains that life can bring us as well as its unexpected joys.

I enjoy these kinds of books because I like their message of finding comfort and hope through the people around us, and allowing ourselves to discard our jaded views and open up to new ones. The only thing that often bothers me with these tales of female friendship is they tend to be incredibly predictable and safe — any problems that may arise tend to be quickly resolved and do not instill any sense of dramatic tension.

There is one humorous moment in the book, where the local police mistake a bag of the batter for a dangerous chemical and quarantine the area, but this event is resolved in a matter of a few pages and is never brought up again. There were many instances like this in the novel that I felt could have been taken in bolder directions, or could have presented us with something surprising, but the only aspect I found unusual was believing an entire town would get swept up in the bread-baking craze rather than 99 percent of the people who would have just thrown the bags of batter away.

The strength of the writing in "Friendship Bread" is in the personalities of the characters — at least the female ones. Our three principle leads, Julia, Hannah and Madeline, are given well-developed back stories that show how they each evolve through their heartbreaking pasts to become stronger, wiser people.

Most of the other characters, however, come across as flat — this may be because there are a lot of secondary characters, some which only get about two or three pages of story time in all.

"Friendship Bread" may be the typical fluff we see much of in women’s fiction these days, but it is identifiable for many different generations of women and it does leave you with the warm sentiment that people love about the genre. So this Easter, whether you are enjoying a family meal or sharing some treats with your children, I recommend treating yourself to this charming concoction of literary delight.

Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review appears every other week in Sunday Life. Know of a good book to review? Email her to tell her about it.

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