From the Hardcover editionFriendship Bread by Darien Gee
Published by Random House
Review copy provided by the publicist

One afternoon, Julia and her daughter Gracie arrive home to find a loaf of Amish Friendship Bread on their doorstep, along with a bag of starter and a note describing how to make the bread herself. Julia, still grieving from a personal tragedy, doesn’t have the strength to do most things on most days but in order to appease Gracie, she decides to make the bread. Soon she has four bags of starter to pass on, so she goes to the local coffee shop to pass on the bags and it is there she meets Madeline and Hannah, two newcomers to Julia’s small town of Avalon, Illinois, and the three begin a fast friendship. And pretty soon, everyone in town is baking Amish Friendship Bread and passing along starters to friends and strangers alike. Who knew that one loaf of bread could cause this much camaraderie and new beginnings in this small town?

Okay, so I was not expecting to like this book. Books that appear to be this saccharine sweet don’t usually work for me. I can’t remember if I agreed to review this book or if it was a surprise (this is terrible that I cannot remember, I am aware, and normally I keep much better track of these things) but I almost didn’t pick it up. Something, however, caused me to think I might enjoy it, so I finally buckled down with the first 50 pages. And after that, I was hooked.

Yes, Friendship Bread is an extremely sweet, uplifting novel. However, it deals with so many real issues, and the characters felt so much like real people to me, that I truly had trouble putting the book down. I ended up enjoying it far more than I could have expected. The novel isn’t really about the bread itself, but about the relationships and friendships that form because of the connections people make when they pass along the bread. I have to say that I was surprised by how much tough, real-life stuff Gee chose to examine in this book. The characters in this novel dealt with the death of a child, death of a spouse, infidelity, family conflicts, unplanned pregnancy, and more. The friendship bread served as a backdrop for the characters to examine their issues and heal from them.

I adored many of the characters in this book and really rooted for them. I would say that Julia is the character I most sympathized with, but her friend Hannah would be a close second. What was surprising to me was how Gee managed to create such fully realized, interesting characters while not devoting a ton of time to each one (as there were so many). I was very impressed by how involved I felt in each of their lives.

Friendship Bread really surpassed my expectations and I would definitely recommend it. While it is a sweet novel, it contains much more depth than you would think, and its characters had me at hello. I truly enjoyed this book and am so glad I picked it up.