Monday, September 30, 2013

Book Review: Friendship Bread

By Melissa Amster

A few years ago, I was visiting my family and my mother introduced me to "Friendship Bread." It was absolutely delicious, but when I found out how much work went into maintaining the mixture for it, the chances of making it on my own were slim to none. After reading Friendship Bread by Darien Gee, I'm glad I made the decision to only try it at someone else's house. However, this novel is definitely a treat in its own way.

One afternoon, Julia Evarts and her five-year-old daughter, Gracie, arrive home to find an unexpected gift on the front porch: a homemade loaf of Amish Friendship Bread and a simple note: I hope you enjoy it. Also included are a bag of starter, instructions on how to make the bread herself, and a request to share it with others.

Still reeling from a personal tragedy that left her estranged from the sister who was once her best friend, Julia remains at a loss as to how to move on with her life. She’d just as soon toss the anonymous gift, but to make Gracie happy, she agrees to bake the bread.

When Julia meets two newcomers to the small town of Avalon, Illinois, she sparks a connection by offering them her extra bread starter. Widow Madeline Davis is laboring to keep her tea salon afloat while Hannah Wang de Brisay, a famed concert cellist, is at a crossroads, her career and marriage having come to an abrupt end. In the warm kitchen of Madeline’s tea salon, the three women forge a friendship that will change their lives forever.

In no time, everyone in Avalon is baking Amish Friendship Bread. But even as the town unites for a benevolent cause and Julia becomes ever closer to her new friends, she realizes the profound necessity of confronting the painful past she shares with her sister.

About life and loss, friendship and community, food and family,
Friendship Bread tells the uplifting story of what endures when even the unthinkable happens. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)

This was my first experience reading one of Darien Gee's novels. Darien also writes under the name Mia King, but I haven't read her books under that name either. However, after reading Friendship Bread, I definitely want to experience more of her beautiful and gentle prose written under either name.

I will preface the rest of this review by saying that this novel tackles a heavy and sensitive subject matter, which is apparent right away in the story. Being a mother, it is harrowing to read about the death of any child, whether real or fictional. I felt that Julia was written in a realistic manner and Darien handled the topic gently and honestly, while also being sensitive to the emotions of her readers, whether or not they experienced this in their own life.

Then there's the matter of the "Friendship Bread" itself. Darien shows the ups and downs of distributing and baking this special recipe. It's not just a one time experience. You get a starter and have to maintain it over 10 days and then start the process all over again. In the meantime, you also are giving a bag of starter to three other people, who also get pulled into the process as a result. The bread is worth it in the end, as it is so delicious. And the intent of sharing the bread and starter has a good meaning behind it. However, I can see how this would be a major hassle in a small town such as Avalon, after a while. Personally, I do a hassle-free version of "Friendship Bread," as I give a loaf of homemade challah to a friend or neighbor from each batch I make.

Friendship Bread is as addictive as the food item being featured. I found it very hard to put down and loved the relationships and interactions between the characters. The dialogue and descriptions only served to enhance the story throughout. Darien knew how to create a cozy feel akin to Chicken Soup for the Soul. I felt she was fully invested in the town she created, allowing me to get to know the characters like they were real friends and neighbors. The only downside was the amount of characters, which become overwhelming at times. I didn't mind that there were a lot of secondary characters with their own stories, but there were almost too many to keep track of. I kept mixing up names and situations as a result. I know that some of these characters are reintroduced with main roles in The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society, which I plan to curl up with for a cozy read later this autumn.

If you're looking for a sweet story, definitely check out Friendship Bread. Even though I'm not baking the bread, I am glad I got a chance to share this novel with my mother instead.

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