‘The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society’
By Darien Gee
$14.99, Ballantine Books
Four out of five bookmarks
In the follow-up to her novel “Friendship Bread,” Darien Gee invites readers back to Avalon, Ill., in “The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society.”
Readers reunite with the first novel’s charismatic characters, as well as several new engaging protagonists. This time, rather than the sweet Amish Friendship Bread that once united the Avalon townsfolk, it is the pastime of scrapbooking that connects the characters’ lives. Or, more specifically, it is the titular scrapbooking society’s founder, the busybody Bettie Shelton.
No matter who is facing a serious conundrum — whether it is Isabel, wounded by the death of her husband after he left her for another woman; Ava struggling to make ends meet while raising her 5-year-old son, Max, alone; Frances preparing for the arrival of her adopted Chinese daughter until an unexpected piece of news threatens to tear the fabric of her family apart; or young Connie trying to understand all of the losses of her life (for which she finds a salve in caring for a lost goat, despite the neighbors’ protests) — Bettie always finds a way to wriggle her way into their business.
Her passion for teaching the art of scrapbooking starts to touch the lives of everyone in Avalon, but maybe even the strong-willed, opinionated Bettie is not as well balanced as she would have everyone believe, and her secret may bring the town together once again to create something truly remarkable.
Gee has a wonderful way of creating such an extensive cast of characters, each with his or her own distinct personality, quirks and history. And yet all these unique backgrounds are tied together into one flowing tapestry.
There is also a humorous familiarity with her characters. We have all known someone like Bettie, a person who is aggressively sociable and has to have the last word in any debate. But then we also know the sweet, motherly type like the tea salon owner Madeline, who always knows how to diffuse a situation and can even soften the fieriest of tempers.
Gee manages to incorporate every generation into her stories, from teenagers to 20-somethings to middle-agers to elders, making her stories accessible and identifiable to just about any reader (at least the female ones, as the majority of her cast is women).
Often a predominantly female-focused story such as this can come dangerously close to delivering too much melodrama or saccharine sweetness in order to elicit an emotional reaction from its target audience (because, let’s face it, we as women like a book that can make us outwardly laugh and cry).
Gee, however, handles her multiple plot lines with subtle, unforced honesty in a very organic style of writing. She allows her characters to explore and arrive at their emotions, rather than forcing a sudden tragedy on them with the intent of creating soul-crippling drama. The novel delves into very intense, weighty issues without making them feel heavy-handed.
For those who enjoyed Gee’s “Friendship Bread,” this continuation on the story will not disappoint. For those who have not read the previous book, I encourage you to read both books but you can enjoy “Ladies Scrapbooking Society” on its own without the precursor.
The novel also includes scrapbooking tips and recipes that are associated with the story, which is a fun creative addition to an already fun and creative story about the many loves, many tests and many surprises to be found in life.
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. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.