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One of the best reviewed books recently is Caroline Leavitt's novel, Is This Tomorrow, published by Algonquin Books.
Set in a 1950's suburb of Boston, it tells the story of Ava Lark, a Jewish divorced mother of twelve-year-old Lewis. They are somewhat shunned in their neighborhood, their only friends being widowed Dot and her two children Jimmy and Rose. When Jimmy goes missing, the neighborhood is shattered, and Ava and Lewis find themselves even further marginalized.
The characters in this story are so well developed and Leavitt really submerges the reader back in time, when Cold War fears were at its peak. Lewis just wriggled his way into my heart and as the novel progresses in time, we see Ava tackling her fear of cooking and learning how to bake pies.
Ava was never a good cook, but one day she decided to make a blueberry pie.
She put on the radio. Ray Charles was singing that he couldn't stop loving you. "A lot of good that will do you," Ava told him. She went to the bookcase and took out her mother's old cookbook and leafed through it until she found a recipe for blueberry pie. She got out the butter, shortening, cornstarch, and flour, and some frozen blueberries she had bought. "Stop acting like an idiot," she told herself. "You can do this." And if she couldn't, she'd throw it out and no one would know. She got out a mixing bowl, tied an apron around her waist, and took a deep breath.
An hour and a half later, Ava stared in amazement at her pie. The crust was golden and when she tapped it with the edge of a fork, it flaked.
She took a bite. The crust melted along her tongue the fruit was tangy. It wasn't perfect, but it was pretty good. She sat there, in her tiny kitchen, and slowly, carefully, devoured the pie.This success gave Ava confidence, and through that she took steps to create a better life for herself. I loved how strong Ava was, and was really pulling for her to succeed.
There are some wonderful foodie passages in this lovely, layered novel, like this one.
She began to realize that she didn't have to follow the recipes exactly, that she could use maple syrup instead of sugar and it would taste delicious, that she could add less corn starch or more fruit for a brighter-tasting pie. She worked to perfect her crimp, studying the photos in her cookbooks, laying one finger along the dough, taking her time. She remembered her mother telling her that so much of the cooking was your mood. You could have the best ingredients in the world, but if you were feeling ornery, nothing would taste right.
If you haven't read Is This Tomorrow yet, I highly recommend it and the link to my review is here.
Beth Fish Reads has a terrific review of Is This Tomorrow on her website here.