A Tangle of Knots

by Lisa Graff
ages: 9+
First sentence: “The line for the number 36 bus out of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, was the longest at the station.”
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In this town, in this reality, there are people who have Talent. A special ability to be good at something — matching orphans to families, for example; or spitting perfectly; or getting lost; or tying knots. Or like Cady: baking the perfect cake for the perfect person.

Ten-year-old Cady has been with Miss Mallory’s Home for Lost Girls longer than anyone else. Mostly because even though Miss Mallory’s Talent is for matching people, she hasn’t quite yet found the right  match for Cady. So, they spend their time together, Miss Mallory matching people and Cady baking cakes that are just exactly perfect for people. That is, until a series of coincidences (or are they?) set things in motion that result in a lost boy, a perfect match for Cady, six St. Anthony’s suitcases, a perfect peanut butter recipe, and a disastrous baking competition.

On the one hand, Graff’s book is sweet and magical. The huge cast are all, for the most part, charming and likeable, doing delightfully quirky things. I also have to admit a soft spot for books that involve food, and this one does not disappoint on that level. There are recipes to try, and yummy cakes to read about.

That said, I feel like I’ve read this story before. I’m not quite sure where or which one, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I have experienced this story before. Maybe not with the exact sequence of events, but an girl with a talent to bake, a baking contest, a giant in a gray suit somewhat channeling events, the happily-ever-after? It was all very, very familiar. That, and I just didn’t feel like the conflict — the grumpy Owner who was lurking in the background — was enough to counteract the fluff. It felt like a dinner of cake and ice cream, which is all fine and good, but lacks the substance necessary to make a filling meal.

It’s not that it was a bad book; it wasn’t. It just was… unsatisfying. Which made me a little sad.

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