The Crepe Makers’ Bond. By Julie Crabtree. Milkweed Editions. $16.95.
A Million Miles from Boston. By Karen Day. Wendy Lamb Books. $15.99.
A book whose plot is incidental to the recipes offered throughout its pages, The Crepe Makers’ Bond is a sequel to Julie Crabtree’s Discovering Pig Magic, which introduced Best Friends Forever Ariel, Nicki and M. The plot, in the new book as in the earlier one, hinges on Ariel’s cooking, which she does when feeling frustrated; and that means the plot has to make her frustrated frequently; and that is just what the plot does. Among the frustrations this time are the impending end of middle school; M’s mother’s plan to move out of the Bay Area, which will separate the BFFs and will be, like, totally not acceptable; and the girls’ discovery that as much as they care for each other, living with each other (when M moves in with Ariel) creates stresses beyond anything any of them expected – forcing them all to confront their inner feelings and look at the coming changes in their lives. This girls-grow-up plot is so unoriginal as to be hackneyed, but Crabtree’s way of structuring it around food – and including multiple recipes within the body of the book, not in an appendix – lends The Crepe Makers’ Bond some extra helpings of style. “Shaky Ground Stuffed Wontons with Peanut Sauce,” “Too Cool for School Cucumber Salad,” “Guilty Daughter Baked Brie,” “Friendship Bread” and many other recipes permeate the pages – 24 in all, which means one per chapter or about one every 10 pages. The plot meanders pleasantly enough among the foods, with Ariel narrating such adventures as M’s sudden desire to act in an advertising spot to be created by Ariel’s Dad and based on The Sopranos: “Carmela will discover a locked, suspicious-looking case of what she imagines as contraband. Like guns or drugs or something. She’ll use actual dialogue from an episode to go off on Tony for bringing his dangerous stuff into the house with the kids. …Tony (Dad) will dramatically throw open the chest to reveal piles of hand-crafted chocolates. They will all gasp and look at Tony in horror as the picture fades out and the screen says, ‘Island Sweets. So Good They Should Be Illegal.’” Now, the fictional girls haven’t actually been allowed to watch The Sopranos, and it is a fair bet than many intended readers never saw the show either – and may not remember details of characterization if they did see it – but none of that really matters, since the plot points here are all about typical middle-school-girl issues of friendship, bonding and looking ahead in life. And there is plenty of that, including a “6 Months Later” epilogue, in which an enforced separation ends and a whole new set of life adventures is poised to begin. The writing and plotting are unerringly sentimental, and for that very reason should appeal to many middle-school girls – provided they have as strong an interest in food as in camaraderie.
Relationship issues are even more complex in A Million Miles from Boston, whose narrator, Lucy, is having tremendous trouble coping with change. The biggest change in her life came before the book opens, with her mother’s death when Lucy was six years old. Since then, Lucy has sought stability through summertime visits to Pierson Point, Maine, with her father and brother. The area is filled with reminders of Lucy’s mother, providing Lucy with anchors in her life. But the summer of this book is the one where the rock of stability starts to fracture. Ian, a popular and loud boy from back home in Boston, comes to Pierson Point with his family, and he and Lucy are at loggerheads from the start (which, predictably, means Lucy will eventually discover that there are many good things about Ian – and that is just what she does learn). Even more upsetting to Lucy is “the PT,” as she calls the physical therapist who is her father’s girlfriend and who is going to be spending some weekends with her and her dad in Maine. Lucy predictably resists her father’s attempts to bring her and the PT closer together – but here too Lucy soon learns that the PT is no ogre and can even provide some helpful advice (about everything from Ian to pierced ears) that Lucy’s father cannot offer. The lessons of A Million Miles from Boston are thoroughly unexceptional and unexceptionable: that old wounds do heal, that new love can make the healing faster, that change is inevitable and is better embraced than resisted. Karen Day’s prose is straightforward and simple to read: “I jumped up. I couldn’t stand these feelings anymore.” The ease of reading the book and the forthright nature of its lessons will make it more suitable for readers on the younger end of the target age range of 8-12 than for older or more-mature ones. For those who do find the story resonant, including young readers coping with family loss, A Million Miles from Boston may come across as more profound than it really is – and may help some hurts heal, which can be more important for this age group than an offer of storytelling depth.