The shop in THE SHOP ON BLOSSOM STREET is a yarn shop on a quiet Seattle street that is just on the cusp of gentrification. The shop itself is not merely a backdrop for the plot of Debbie Macomber's sweet new novel; it's also the catalyst that brings together four dissimilar women and helps them weave together a friendship out of the different-colored threads of their lives.
For each of the four women, knitting represents the fulfillment of a wish or dream. For Carol Girard, it's the overwhelming desire to have a child. When Carol hears about the new yarn shop on Blossom Street and learns that the beginning knitting class will be knitting a baby blanket, she knows it's a sign. Carol and her husband have tried for years to conceive a child; now, about to undergo their third in vitro procedure, their time and insurance dollars are running out. Carol has given up so much to have a child --- her normal fast-paced routine, even the high-stress job she loves --- and she hopes that knitting can also fill empty hours in her new slower-paced lifestyle.
For Jacqueline Donovan, it's the hope that she can be a good grandmother despite her loathing for her daughter-in-law. Jacqueline, a fixture at the country club and charity events, has been in a loveless marriage for years. She claims to despise Tammie Lee because she's southern, blonde and ditzy --- in reality, though, Jacqueline is jealous of the obvious love that exists between her son and Tammie Lee. At her husband's request, Jacqueline enrolls in the beginning knitting class, hoping she can knit a baby blanket as a peace offering.
Alix Townsend, the youngest member of the group, also seems the least likely knitter. She signs up for the beginning knitting class in the hopes that donating her baby blanket for charity can knock off some of her court-mandated community service hours; secretly, though, knitting is part of Alix's fantasy of a mother she never had. She hopes that by taking up knitting she can recapture some of the nurturing she missed out on as a child. Rebellious and bitter, Alix rubs just about everyone the wrong way until they discover her vulnerability and kindness, hidden under her dyed hair and black leather.
Most poignant of the four women in THE SHOP ON BLOSSOM STREET is Lydia Hoffman, the owner of the yarn shop. For Lydia, knitting in general and owning a yarn shop in particular symbolizes life, a life she couldn't imagine just a few years ago. Having survived two bouts of brain cancer, Lydia never expected to live to thirty, let alone to open her own business. Lydia says, "The shop was my affirmation of life." Although Lydia has taken a leap of faith by opening her yarn shop, she is less courageous when it comes to romance.
With their varying backgrounds and different agendas, it's not surprising that these four women clash when they come together for their first knitting class. Jacqueline and Alix, in particular, are at each other's throats from the start. It's also no surprise that over the course of the summer, these four women form a close bond of friendship that is tested when tragedy threatens one of their own. The characters, despite their emotional development, are not really developed beyond their initial preoccupations. However, it's a rare novel that manages to be sweet without becoming syrupy, and THE SHOP ON BLOSSOM STREET achieves that balance.
Both knitters and non-knitters will find much to enjoy here. Knitters have a bonus: a free baby blanket pattern (the same one the characters learn to knit) is included at the start of the novel, and quotes from well-known knitters are scattered throughout. Non-knitters can still find many pleasures in this satisfying, if somewhat predictable, tale. And who knows --- maybe Lydia and her friends will inspire readers to take up needles themselves!
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 23, 2011