Kate is facing one of the biggest challenges of her life. Having beat breast cancer after a long, hard fight and a double mastectomy, she has agreed to do the one thing that has always truly terrified her: white-water rafting through the Grand Canyon with her daughter. As a condition to agreeing to go on the trip, Kate gives each of her close friends...the women who rallied around her during her illness and remain her best friends...their own personal challenge.
The chapters alternate between the women as they face their challenge: Hadley, a young widow; Caroline, learning how to be single after a rough divorce; Marion, the eldest and most matriarchal who needs to learn to do something only for herself; Sara, bit by the travel bug as a young woman, but as a mom to three has no time to herself; Daria, a free spirit determined to never settle down; Ava, the lone friend who feels guilt over not being able to be close to Kate during her illness; and finally, Kate herself.
The woman and their stories are realistic and feel completely honest, like a group of woman you could easily know yourself. The chapters are long enough for the reader to really get to know each woman, her past and her present, and why Kate assigned each the challenge that she did. Some of the challenges even seem a bit ridiculous (like for Marion: get a tattoo), but it doesn't take long to understand how the perfect challenge is given to each character.
My favorite section was Daria's and her challenge to learn to make bread. The descriptions the author uses are luscious and rich, pulling you into the story and, in my case, keeping me up way past my bedtime. The book certainly isn't a thriller or even a page-turner in the "excitement" sense, but you'll become so wrapped up in all the amazing detail and the raw openness of each character that you won't be able to begin a woman's story without finishing it out to the end.
I loved The School of Essential Ingredients, Bauermeister's first novel, and am really anxious to see what she has next. These are the types of books that I love to gift to friends and that I want to have on my shelves, so guests will ask me about them. I'm a picky book owner, as I have limited space to store my books, only choosing the ones I really love to stick around. BOTH of Erica Bauermeister's books have found space on my shelves.
Joy for Beginners
G.P. Putnam Son's