“I don’t care that you lost our legacy. I don’t care that you got disqualified. None of your mistakes make me love you any less. But, on the flip side, none of your achievements make me love you any more.”
~Vasylina Bialek, via Beth Kendrick in The Bake-Off
I’ve talked a lot on here about friends being the family we choose for ourselves, but what about the other way around? Can family ever be the friends we choose for ourselves? That’s just one of many ideas Beth Kendrick explores in her newest release, The Bake-Off, which hit stores last month. At its heart, this is a book about sisterhood – the ties it weaves, the bonds it makes (and sometimes breaks), and the journey it sets in motion between two people who are brought together by chance and given the option of staying together by choice.
Amy Nichols is the older sister. The artist. The fun-loving, outgoing, opportunity-seeking party girl turned responsible, charming, dental hygienist and suburban soccer mom to two-year-old twins. Linnie Bialek is the younger sister. The child prodigy. The perfectionist, needs-to-succeed genius (literally!) who applied to college at fourteen and was expected by her parents to change the world. Except she didn’t. She dropped out a semester later, burdened not only by the pressure of everyone’s anticipations, but also by the regret that continues to haunt her today, fourteen years later. Because the one time she wasn’t perfect? It came at her sister’s expense.
Cleverly thrown together in a baking competition by their charmingly sassy Grammy Syl, both sisters are forced to work side-by-side for the first time in a decade. And, just as their szarlotka evolves from a less-than-savory dish to golden gourmet, Amy and Linnie begin to slowly pick up the pieces of their shattered relationship. Like any baking connoisseur knows, each ingredient must be added ever-so-precisely, and the delicate, often-times-fragile bond between the sisters is no different. For Amy and Linnie, the road to forgiveness is equal parts loyalty, repentance, acceptance, dedication, and, perhaps above all else, love.
Through a series of laugh-out-loud hilarious events (case in point: Linnie correcting misspelled graffiti with a tube of mascara, because she can’t possibly let the error stand), heartwarming shows of family solidarity (Grammy Syl passing on the recipe box that’s been among her most prized possessions), and deeply touching shifts in perspective (no spoilers here – you’ll have to read to find out what they are), Beth tells a beautiful tale of family, friendship, and what happens when the two intersect after having been on divergent paths for over a decade. Is it ever too late to change our lives? Are there mistakes that can’t be fixed and wounds that can’t be healed? Or can everything come back together and blend into a new kind of reality?
This reader found herself wishing for the latter. Amy and Linnie – each with very different personalities, lives, and opinions – grabbed my interest from the beginning. I understood them. I liked them. I rooted for them. I was compelled by their individual stories and their story together, and as the pages passed by and their journey unfolded, I found myself thinking about them even when I wasn’t reading. These characters resonate. They leap off the pages, jump into your head, and stick around awhile. They become more than characters in a novel … they become your friends. That vibe was present early on and only grew as the book progressed and the plot spun its lines. Watching (yes, watching – Beth writes so vividly and with such realism, description, and vibrancy that it felt as though the scenes were playing on a movie screen inside my mind) these sisters learn from each other in ways they never expected was gratifying, and I found myself practically racing through the pages, so interested to see what happened next. I was invested from beginning to end, and then some – and not just in Amy and Linnie, but in the fabulous supporting cast Beth introduces. Twins Chloe and Ben are the epitome of adorable, hotel owner Cam is a refreshing change of pace, and Grammy Syl … quite simply put, she’s the best.
Family is about unconditional love. That love may be knocked down by trials and tribulations, but like a good recipe, it can be tweaked when necessary and adapt to a plethora of changes. We don’t love our family – by birth, by choice, by anything in between – because of their mistakes and achievements. We love them because of who they are and how they change our lives for the better. Beth’s book is a reminder of that. It’s a reminder to fight for what – and who – we believe in, and also to never stop believing in ourselves. When we pursue our dreams and goals because we want to, because we have faith in them and in ourselves, that’s when they start to come true. That’s when sweetness abounds.