Florence Ditlow,
The Bakery Girls
(CreateSpace, 2011)

Florence Ditlow researched her family tree and the history of the family business, Stitts Bakery in Harrisburg, Pa. But instead of retelling the tale with names and dates and raw facts, Ditlow filled in the blanks with conversations and a bit of intrigue and suspense. The result is a page-turning novel, though very much based on real life.

The story has a two-pronged focus. In the background is always the bakery, created by patriarch Floyd Stitt in 1908, and an operation that would employ various family members over the course of its 60-year run. But the main characters on either side of its counters are Floyd and Clara Stitt's daughters: Dorothea (Dot, b. 1911), Louise (b. 1916) and Elaine (b. 1926). The book follows the girls from their childhoods to young womanhoods, and through the Great Depression and the World War II years. We learn of their hopes and dreams and their favorite songs and movies. We meet the men they care about who go off to war. Each sister has a different relationship with the bakery. Sometimes it's a welcomed one; sometimes, not. But no matter where Life takes her, each girl discovers that Stitt flour and sugar are in her blood.

About halfway through the book, a few key family photos are included to trigger a reader's "Ah-HAH!" moment. From that point on, we realize where the author probably fits on the Stitt family tree. But getting to the circumstances that put her parents together is a long and suspenseful road. We know the probable outcome, when the individuals in the story don't yet foresee the future. This amusing situation is enough to keep the pages turning. We have to keep wondering: How will it all work out? Along the way, we also learn the ins and outs of commercially-sliced bread and the restorative properties of homemade cherry pie.

Ditlow has done a nice job of presenting this piece of historical fiction, drawn from her exploration of her own heritage. In a casual way, the book also leads us to understand how her own path came about, as outlined in her own short opening bio.

The Bakery Girls is recommended reading for women of all ages, but especially for those who are familiar with the central Pennsylvania landscape, for those who like to bake, and for those who are fascinated by the culture of The Greatest Generation. Read it as though it's all true, because most of it is. The experiences of these girls will stay with you for a while.

[ visit the author's website ]

book review by
Corinne H. Smith

7 January 2012

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