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Friendship Bread: A Novel Hardcover – April 5, 2011
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Nancy Thayer Reviews Friendship Bread
Friendship Bread begins with the mysterious present of starter bread batter and expands to show how the smallest gifts can change entire lives.
Julia Evarts has sustained a tragedy of heartbreaking proportions. She manages to care for her little daughter, but she can’t tolerate being near her once-beloved sister Livvy. Her marriage to her husband Mark hangs by a thread. Julia’s grief and estrangement is a constant torture for her. She can no longer find joy in her life.
Hannah de Brisay is a talented cellist who has devoted herself to her art from the age of three. She’s young, vibrant, and celebrated, when a back injury prevents her from playing professionally again. Philippe, her partner in marriage and in music, sticks her in the charming town of Avalon while he is away--playing, in all senses of the word.
Madeline Davis has also had her share of sorrow. She’s older, though, and perhaps even wiser. Certainly she knows, as this captivating book shows, that nurturing others often helps you heal yourself. In her small tea salon, these women come together and begin the slow alchemy of friendship and personal transformation.
Much more happens, too: an ambitious journalist named Edie causes problems for everyone in town; a sexy architect named Vivian works very hard to seduce Julia’s husband Mark; and Connie Coll loses her job as a Laundromat attendant with surprising consequences. Other residents of Avalon make delightful cameos as they deal with their unexpected gifts of Friendship Bread. Some are happy about it. Some aren’t.
Through it all, Darien Gee’s virtuoso storytelling kept me turning pages--and wishing I lived in Avalon! The story flows smoothly, full of surprises, and I often found sentences so wise, so lovely, they took my breath away--and made me think.
Friendship Bread is a book that transports you to a place where your heart is soothed and uplifted as you experience the grief, petty faults, and random kindnesses all humans share. Ultimately, it makes you love your very own flawed and precious life.
Author Darien Gee on Friendship Bread
Friendship Bread opens in the fictitious rivertown of Avalon, Illinois. Like many small communities, Avalon is a place where families gather to share a meal and where neighbors are quick to come to one another’s aid. Visitors are charmed by the quiet simplicity of Avalon, of the scent of fresh-baked goods wafting from Madeline’s Tea Salon, of the sweet bungalow homes that line the shady streets.
But behind every closed door is a story, and on a sunny afternoon in March, my protagonist’s story begins. For five years Julia Evarts has carried a grief that threatens to tear her family apart. She’s going through the motions of life when her young daughter discovers the equivalent of a culinary chain letter sitting on their front porch: a plate of Amish Friendship Bread along with a bag of starter and an anonymous note that says “I HOPE YOU ENJOY IT.” They’re instructed to feed the starter over a ten-day period and then bake two loaves of bread and share the remaining starter with three other people. As the bread and its starter make their way through Julia’s small town, including into the home of her estranged sister, the residents of Avalon, Illinois, find their lives--and hearts--opening in ways both poignant and unexpected.
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.
Bake Your Own Friendship Bread:
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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Top Customer Reviews
I read the book quickly because I could not put it down. I was drawn into the lives of each and every character mentioned. I know that sometimes a book with many well defined characters can lead to confusion but in the case of Friendship Bread, each and every person had to be included to take the book where it ended up.
Because I'm so familiar with the baking of Friendship Bread, I was picturing in my mind that Gee had a huge 20-cup bowl and she was tossing in 1 teaspoon of Leon, 1/2 teaspoon of Clinton, 1/2 cup of Norma, 2 cups of Robert, 1 teaspoon of Clyde, 1 cup of Julia, 1 tablespoon of Gracie and all the other characters along with 2 cups of love, 1 cup of compassion, 1 tablespoon of forgiveness and 1 cup of Amish Friendship starter. All of this mixed together and as time goes by, a real community is formed like a hot loaf of Amish Friendship Bread. (mmm, mmm, good)
I'm a sap for books and movies that make me cry and Friendship Bread did just that! Gee's writing made it real. She made me cheer along, cry and laugh with each passing turn of the page. In the end, I was left hungry with a need and a desire to reach out to those around me in my own life who need a little love, hope, encouragement, friendship and food!
Now I'm off to read the book a second time. I'm sure I'll have more to write after that! Oh and if you have never baked the bread, Gee cleverly included recipe for you!
I had also heard about this Friendship Bread phenomena and likened it to a chain mail scheme. I just don't do them. Trying to keep bread starter tended for ten days consecutively with everything else I've got going on seemed stupid. To me, a plastic bag full of fermenting goo that requires daily mashing is like a new pet and I have enough to take care of already. So I passed on the baking opportunity.
But when I read about this new novel - which came out the same week Angel shared a loaf with me - I had to get it.
It's not about the bread. It's about the friendships. Darien Gee creates a set of memorable characters. The ensemble cast of a small town community advances multiple storylines that weave in and out of their involvement with this rising batter. I cared about these people and found myself near the end weeping as a rift in the friendship between two sisters is repaired. The town of Avalon, Illinois, is a central character in Edie's attempt to write the news story of her career about how this basic batter for bread became the impetus to a better town.
This is a great beach read!
I guess the main problem was simply that I noticed the writer's choice of words and stylistic decisions so much. With a good book, I soon become immersed in the story. I just wasn't getting immersed in the story.