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Thursday, June 23, 2011

"Friendship Bread" ~ Beachy Book Doesn't Disappoint

From Publishers Weekly

Baked goods conquer profound grief in Gee's by-the-numbers debut. The sorrow felt by Julia Evarts and her husband, Mark, over the death of their son, Josh, six years earlier has chipped away at the foundation of their marriage, but after Julia finds a starter batch of Amish friendship bread on her porch one day, the yeasty surprise helps patch up some spiritual wounds. She shares the recipe starter with a few people in her town, and pretty soon everyone is making it and finding their own simple narratives of bread-driven healing. But none have a harder path to the foregone conclusion than Julia and her sister, Livvy, who was with Josh when he died and has yet to be forgiven by Julia. Yes, the premise is hokey, but Gee's women characters are written with affection (much more so than the men in their lives, who are essentially decorative). Readers looking for a quick, easy fix of heartwarming optimism could do worse. And, of course, the recipe is included. (Apr.)
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Introduction to the Author:

The novel was inspired by my own experience with Amish Friendship Bread, when my daughter brought it home along with a bag of starter she’d received from a friend. I was eating the last few crumbs when I started to think about a woman who receives the starter and just doesn’t want to do it. I saw a sadness hanging over this character and I knew I wanted to find out more. I started writing and the story quickly took shape--more importantly, it soon became clear that the book wasn’t about any one person, but an entire community ready for change and connection.

My Review:
"Friendship Bread" was a book I didn't expect much from other than a good story about the proverbial friendships between women, which I'd lost interest in some time ago. It was touted by several book review spots that I researched, however, and I thought it deserved my attention. In this sort of case, I often go for an audio book to cover the base, and I borrowed it from my digital library locally.

I was pleasantly surprised that I not only enjoyed this novel, but I found myself wanting to know what happened to each of the characters and what the final results would be. My favorite character dynamic was that between the woman who had lost her child and her sister who had been babysitting him at the time of his accidental death. This was a storyline within the book that spoke to the complexities of love and fraternal friendship, forgiveness and redemption of one's own heart, as well as the redemption of all relationships.  Beautifully examined and conveyed to readers.

I have heard of this Amish friendship starter bread.  My daughter was gifted with it when she first moved to her new town in Lake Charles, Louisiana.  Someone in her church family gave her a jar of it, telling her she needed to nurture it and then pass a bit along to someone else, keeping a part for herself.  She and her husband tried and tried to save that bit of starter, but they really didn't understand it! She called me about it, talked to her church friends about it, and stared at it in consternation.  Having grown up in Boston, she was aghast at leaving this fermenting thing on her counter and thinking of baking with it! Finally, she left it alone...and eventually tossed it out. 

Because of this near miss with my daughter's Friendship Bread, I have a sense of the nurturing process involved in this starter. And the guilt at failure with it!  There's a responsibility for the starter, a true link to the one who gave it to you, a promise to nurture it and pass it on to a special someone else.

"Friendship Bread"  turned out to be a surprising and worthy read.  It's a novel I think many who love women's literature focused on friendship and family relationships will enjoy.  While it's not especially intellectual or original in its theme, it is a book that readers can enjoy for a beachy read.  I recommend the audio book, as well.

3.5 stars ~  I liked it!



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