A satisfying first novel by Gee; perfect for the book-club circuit and beyond.

FRIENDSHIP BREAD

Another addition in the recent trend in popular fiction: Small groups of women improve their lives by engaging in a domestic comfort. This time it's bread making.

Julia and her small daughter Gracie find a gift on their doorstep—a plate of bread, a note and a bag of starter dough. Though Julia is not a baker, and has little interest in...life (more on that later), Gracie convinces her mother to follow the instructions and make Amish Friendship Bread. Part of the requirements are to split the bag of starter into three, bake one loaf for yourself and pass on the rest to someone else—a culinary chain letter. The novel traces the effect of the Friendship Bread on a small town, jumping from neighbor to neighbor, but focuses on a small group of women whose lives need mending. Julia’s son Josh died five years ago, and since then life is a daily struggle and her marriage is a mess; Hannah is soon to be divorced by her husband, a famous classical musician (as she once was before an injury); Madeline is struggling to run her tea shop and come to terms with the kind of stepmother she was; Edie is pregnant and is sure it will ruin her career as an investigative journalist; and, finally, Livvy is also expecting, but her husband has just lost his job, and her sister Julia won’t speak to her—she’s still blamed for Josh’s death. Gee admirably weaves the various lives together, linked more often than not by sadness and disappointment, and demonstrates that simple companionship is a powerful balm. The novel’s title, and even its conceit, promises a kind of homespun sappiness that the narrative thankfully avoids, delivering instead thoughtful portraits of women on the brink of finding better versions of themselves.

A satisfying first novel by Gee; perfect for the book-club circuit and beyond.

Pub Date: April 19, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-345-52534-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2011

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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LIFE OF PI

A fable about the consolatory and strengthening powers of religion flounders about somewhere inside this unconventional coming-of-age tale, which was shortlisted for Canada’s Governor General’s Award. The story is told in retrospect by Piscine Molitor Patel (named for a swimming pool, thereafter fortuitously nicknamed “Pi”), years after he was shipwrecked when his parents, who owned a zoo in India, were attempting to emigrate, with their menagerie, to Canada. During 227 days at sea spent in a lifeboat with a hyena, an orangutan, a zebra, and a 450-pound Bengal tiger (mostly with the latter, which had efficiently slaughtered its fellow beasts), Pi found serenity and courage in his faith: a frequently reiterated amalgam of Muslim, Hindu, and Christian beliefs. The story of his later life, education, and mission rounds out, but does not improve upon, the alternately suspenseful and whimsical account of Pi’s ordeal at sea—which offers the best reason for reading this otherwise preachy and somewhat redundant story of his Life.

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-15-100811-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2002

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