Independence Day celebrations evoke images of small-town America, so it's easy to imagine Avalon, a place that "isn’t more than what it seems to be—a small, simple river town in northern Illinois." In the midst of buzzing cell phones and economic downturns it is also a place of broken marriages and fractured relationships. And then one small act of kindness, its origin a mystery, turns the town upside down.
Best-selling author Mia King, writing under her real name, Darien Gee, weaves together the lives of several women in Avalon in "Friendship Bread: A Novel" ($25 in hardcover from Ballantine Books; $12.99 in Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook e-book format; and an audio book version narrated by Nancy Linari). Gee's husband, Darrin, has relatives in Chico. The couple lives on the Big Island of Hawaii with their three children.
It begins on Julia Evarts' front porch with a Ziploc bag full of starter for "Amish Friendship Bread," instructions, and a note that says: "I hope you enjoy it." But for Gracie, her five-year-old, Julia would have tossed the strange substance. Now she is prepping it for baking in ten days, thinking of her husband Mark's sweet tooth. But she is thinking, too, of Josh, their son, who died tragically at the age of ten in the care of her younger sister, Livvy. She doesn't talk to Livvy anymore, can't forgive her, or herself.
Hannah, a master cellist, has settled in Avalon with her husband, but the marriage is not going well. Madeline, an older woman, has opened a tea salon in Avalon, and when circumstances bring Julia and Hannah together, Madeline provides the emotional glue. All the time, loaves of Friendship Bread continue to multiply as new starters are passed from person to person.
The novel is about finding true freedom. As Julia realizes, "I want to be free. Only it wasn’t the freedom she had toyed with before, that singular independence that excluded Mark and Gracie. It was a freedom that included them. She wanted to be free to love them, to be with them."
Readers can download a free PDF booklet with more than 50 Amish friendship bread recipes from now until July 10, 2011. Visit www.friendshipbreadkitchen.com/pantry/chicoer. The password is er.