A debut novel about The Lavenders, a magical bakery tucked away in the streets of lower Manhattan, and the people who call it home.
Thirteen-year-old Walter Lavender Jr. has a motor disorder that's left him unable to speak, but he also has a nearly supernatural ability to find lost things. The thing he's most passionate about finding is his father, an airline pilot whose plane went missing en route to Bombay three days before his son was born. When a powerful book that's always been kept in the bakery—a seven-page gift from a mysterious customer—goes missing, Walter’s abilities are put to the ultimate test. Without the Book, the dragon pastries that once breathed smoke (much to the customers' amazement) suddenly fall limp and inanimate. Soon the customers stop coming. When a greedy new landlord doubles the rent, Walter sets out on a hero’s journey to recover the Book and save his mother’s shop. As he goes about his adventures, Walter encounters a vibrant, typically New York–ish cast of characters, from a junkman living in a pseudo-magical tunnel system beneath the city to a Chinese woman fallen on hard times who collects bottles for deposit money. As Walter tracks down the Book, now scattered into pages, he learns lessons from everyone he meets, and as the story winds to a close he has found a whole new sense of himself. Keller’s style is simple and often beautiful, and she infuses the novel with flashes of subtle humor and mouthwatering descriptions of sugary confections. But her prose can be weighed down by synonyms, and the device of having Walter meet stranger after stranger during his quest for the Book loses momentum halfway through, as the conversations and characters begin to feel a bit too invented, even for a fanciful read.
A tender story that falls just short of the mark.