Meg Donohue must be a devoteé of Fannie Flagg, because she also names her chapters after the character whose narrative we will be hearing. In the case of How to Eat a Cupcake, each chapter is named either “Julia” or “Annie.”
Julia St. Claire is the privileged only child of Tad and Lolly St. Claire. She’s blond, beautiful, educated, and successful in everything she attempts. Her upscale upbringing in the tony San Francisco neighborhood of Pacific Heights has been a life most people can only dream about.
Annie Quintana is the illegitimate daughter of Ecuadorian immigrant, Lucia Quintana. Upon the announcement of her pregnancy, Lucia was disowned by her strict family. She made her way to the US, working a series of jobs until she became the housekeeper and nanny for the St. Claire family. Although Lucia and Annie lived in the estate’s carriage house, they were cherished by their employers. Lucia had the gift for putting everyone around her at ease and she could cook and bake like no else.
Through the years, Annie’s and Julia’s relationship changed as they got older and were forced to navigate the murky depths of the exclusive Devon Prep high school, the St. Claires paying both tuitions. Eventually the girls grew apart, their once sisterly bond fueled by competition and loathing–the kind of nagging dislike that people only experience when they actually care deeply for one another. The kind which only fades if both parties make amends.
Then one day, Annie’s mother, Lucia, died.
Trust me, I’m not giving anything away. This is the expository information generously given at the beginning of the novel. The main plot picks up 10 years later. The girls are now 28 year old women whose lives are about to intersect once again. Julia is now a talented businesswoman with all the right connections. Annie is a gifted baker living with a dash of cynicism after losing the only relative she ever knew. The following year for both of them will be a learning experience in trust, faith, and introspection.
Since we hear each of their inner voices, we see what is genuine and what is perceived.
Although, technically, a “light” read, the relationship between the women felt very real. That is what kept my attention to the end. Most lifelong friendships are complicated, as any relationship with a lot of history. I think of friends I have had since early childhood. There have been ups and downs, joys and sorrows, and lengthy periods with no contact at all. But when you know someone for most of your life there is a unique bond. Discovering which is stronger–Julia and Annie’s childhood bond or the events that later tore them apart–is what makes this novel worthwhile.
8.5 out of 10 stars