Title: Cherries in Winter
Author: Suzan Colon
No. of Pages: 200
First Released: 2009
Synopsis (Courtesy of B&N): “What is the secret to finding hope in hard times?
When Suzan Colon was laid off from her dream job at a magazine during the economic downturn of 2008, she needed to cut her budget way, way back, and that meant home cooking. Her mother suggested, “Why don’t you look in Nana’s recipe folder?” In the basement, Suzan found the tattered treasure, full of handwritten and meticulously typed recipes, peppered with her grandmother Matilda’s commentary in the margins. Reading it, Suzan realized she had found something more than a collection of recipes—she had found the key to her family’s survival through hard times.
Suzan began re-creating Matilda’s “sturdy food” recipes for baked pork chops and beef stew, and Aunt Nettie’s clam chowder made with clams dug up by Suzan’s grandfather Charlie in Long Island Sound. And she began uncovering the stories of her resilient family’s past.”
Comments and Critique: Given what has happened with the economy this past year and the fact that winter is now upon us, I thought that it was a timely read. If anything, I felt that it gave an interesting perspective on the recession and our current economic woes. I have been fortunate to not have struggled personally through the recession because both my husband and I are fortunate enough to have steady jobs in a recession-proof industry. While I’m not taking our jobs for granted, I have to admit that I am not too worried either. Reading about the firsthand experiences of someone who has lost their job as a direct result of the economy was interesting and eye-opening.
Unfortunately, I felt that the narrative was quite disjointed. As Ms. Colon flashes back and forth between stories, it took me half the book to figure out the relationships between the main characters and the sequence of events described. In addition, I did not understand the point behind the stories at first. While I eventually realized the reason behind them, I was left confused and detached from them until I did. The lessons behind each story is very subtle, which I found refreshing that Ms. Colon felt that her readers were intelligent enough to not be force-fed the meaning of each story.
Speaking of messages, I felt that they were pragmatic and a much-need reminder that life will continue in spite of the economy and that it will even improve again. This is seen by the other generational stories in which they each faced their own crises and survived. Each story was important because it reinforced the idea that you do what you have to do to survive. Through her family’s history, Ms. Colon also reminds the reader that no matter how bad things might seem today, our life is still better than what people faced in the Great Depression and even World War I and II.
Interspersed throughout the book were a few family recipes. The focus was on comfort foods, which makes sense given that people in distress are in need of comfort. There are one or two that I would love to try, but I was most impressed with the personal aspect of the story that they add. Each recipe includes a picture of the original recipe in either her grandmother’s handwriting or hand-typed. These pictures help emphasize the humanity of the story and are more powerful than mere words.
At first, my overall impression of the book was that it was too depressing a topic. It was too current and too closely mirrored the nightly news stories we face each and every day. I did not feel as if there was enough distance between the events to allow for the proper perspective. However, upon reflection, I felt that the book itself was not depressing at all. The idea that there is good that comes out of everything bad and the emphasis on human resiliency is important enough to repeat over and over again. There are great lessons to be learned regarding the importance of appearance and how one answer to a simple question can impact your life. Even though Ms. Colon may not be the most sympathetic of main characters (it is hard to feel sympathy for someone who talks about paying $600 for a pair of shoes), I finished the book thankful for my own blessings. That’s the best lesson of all.
Thank you to the LibraryThing Early Reader program and Doubleday for this review copy!