What defines a normal life? Definitions vary, but if one had to take a guess, living in the limelight as the teenage star of a hit ’90s sitcom does not fit any of them. In Elizabeth Bass’s novel Life is Sweet, Rebecca Hudson had had enough of being in the limelight; so she threw a dart at a map and moved to Leeburg, Virginia, a seemingly perfect place to start over and, this time, to lead some sort of a normal life. Other than occasional star-crazed fans making their way to the bakery she opened, Rebecca achieves her goal. Her bakery’s success, the support of her customers, the loyalty of her friends, and her normal life come in sharp contrast to the lives of Hollywood child stars whose names make for tabloid fodder long after their time has passed.
Of course, “normal life” contains only so much normalcy. One friend’s marriage troubles, the other friend’s relationship issues, and the hiccups in 10-year-old Olivia’s relationship with Matthew, her surrogate stepdad, would still count as normal. But her growing attraction to Matthew, the ties between the marriage troubles and his surrogate stepfatherhood, and the seeming hobo who enters her life, firmly tip the scale.
Some books hook readers with their drama, others with their intensity, still others with the unusualness of their situations or of the lives of their characters. Life is Sweet hooks readers because of the emotional connection it builds; the characters are so normal that they cannot but remind readers of those around them – or even of themselves. It is a well-written, heartwarming story featuring very normal individuals who lead very normal lives – yes, even former child star Rebecca Hudson is normal (or does that make her abnormal?). The ending is pretty predictable, but the road that leads to it is quite enjoyable.
The book has the warmth and quaintness one would imagine emanating from a small-town cupcake bakery. The name of the bakery reflects the themes of the book. The Strawberry Cake Shop is named after a cake her late mother would make either when comfort was needed, or to celebrate something special. It therefore, unsurprisingly, represents comfort, warmth, love, and coziness for Rebecca. Such things come in quite handy in periods of transition, which tend to upset certain patterns of behaviour that we have established in our day-to-day lives. But such periods of transitions are normal even in their abnormality, and with the support of family, friends, and, sometimes, comfort food, we emerge from them as Rebecca did, happier than before and with even more strength in our lives.
More information is available on the author’s website.