“Baking bread is a serious business”.
When the year is 911 and you are Lily, nine years old, the child of Sicilian immigrant parents, eking out an existence in the tenements of NYC, life itself is a serious business. Everyone is expected to contribute – from assistance with the care of younger siblings; to helping with every-day chores around the house; to, where available, piecework odd jobs to bring in extra and much-needed income.
Lily’s big sister, Margaret, at twelve years old, has a job at a basement bakery, where she has learned to bake the most delicious “Daily Bread” – the bread that forms the backdrop of every meal shared by a family. Margaret is an inspiration to Lily, who longs to be as confident, capable, and grown-up as her much-admired older sister.
The author strikes a perfect tone in the painting of each character – Lily is a dancing, singing, sprite of a child, whose exuberance and innocence is on the cusp of the inescapable dramatic changes that are just around the corner for her. You can’t help but love and cherish her – and ache for a period in time when childhood as a concept could be so fragile and malformed.
“A business run by nice people had to be better than a grouchy shop”.
Margaret is a serious, conscientious child – her responsibilities and place in supporting the family belie her age, and it’s a heart-breaking journey for the reader as we learn her dreams and her inner desperation.
“I want to stay in school. I want to be a somebody instead of just another worker or somebody’s wife.”
Rich with historical context, this middle-school story straddles a line that takes us deep into the inner workings of an immigrant family, held together by love and tradition and the promise of a new and better life in a new world; and the harsh realities of poverty, discrimination, bullying, and just plain mean-spiritedness and hardship that defined life in the early twentieth century.
A thoroughly lovely read, I was sad to close the final pages on this book and am pleased to see there is a sequel.
Lily and her sister Margaret are wonderful, authentic and heart-warming characters that it’s impossible not to care for.
Readers, young and old, will walk away from this story perhaps a little bit wiser – and most definitely a whole lot more appreciative of the brief but magical innocence of early modern-day childhood.
My stop today on the #bookandwineloversmarketing #blogtour for #theheartsofbakersandartists by #antoinettetruliomartin @storiesserved and published by #redpenguinbooks