When it comes to books, do you think “sweet and cozy” is just a nicer way of saying “fluffy and predictable”? It’s rare to find a novel for tweens and teens that you can recommend as completely delightful and a little bit innocent, something truly sweet, but with substance and careful, confident writing. The Teashop Girls, by Laura Schaefer is exactly that book. From beginning to end, this novel is a treat, just right for middle school readers who enjoy titles like The Wedding Planner’s Daughter (Coleen Murtagh Paratore), The Mother-Daughter Book Club (Heather Vogel Frederick) or 3 Willows (Ann Brashares). Oh, and just right for tea lovers.
Annie Green is just about finished eighth grade, and she feels like everything is changing. Her best friends, Genna and Zoe, are busy with theater and tennis and they just seem to be moving towards high school a whole lot faster than Annie. They don’t hang out as much as they used to, and Annie misses their weekly meetings for tea and talk at The Steeping Leaf, her grandmother’s teashop. When Annie convinces her grandmother Louisa to give her a job as a barista at the store she feels happier than she has in a long time, full of ideas and energy. Annie loves the Leaf more than anything, and it helps that the job gets her a little closer to this cute guy who works for her grandmother too. The good times don’t last long, however, because not long after starting her job, Annie discovers that the Steeping Leaf is in trouble. Louisa can’t make ends meet, and it is finally catching up. Soon an eviction notice arrives. Annie decides to do all she can to save the Leaf, and with a little help from Genna and Zoe, she gets started straight away.
Each chapter begins with a quote about tea, and lovely little drawings by Sujean Rim. Recipes and vintage tea advertisements are scattered throughout the book, along with plenty of tea history, tea-inspired beauty tips, a few Zen tales and Annie’s various “To Do Lists,” adding to the whimsical tone of the narrative. In fact, you learn a lot about tea by reading this book, and I imagine it may inspire a new generation of tea sippers. You know my feeling about any story with recipes. Automatic bonus points. The scrapbook elements of the text add to Annie’s characterization too, helping us to appreciate her true passion for tea and for The Steeping Leaf. I would have liked to see the secondary characters come through a bit more convincingly, but the friendship is believable and Annie’s voice is consistent and charming.
I was reminded of another book I enjoyed this year about an enterprising, positive-thinking girl who digs in to save her family’s business: My Life in Pink and Green by Lisa Greenwald. Teashop Girls touches on similar themes, like the importance of independent business, problem-solving, taking action, and seeing possibility in change. I’m not sure if Schaefer’s book will be a series, but I think readers would happily go along for the ride with more stories about Annie, tea-lover, list-maker, and all around good girl. It’s refreshing to read a novel for this age group that is entirely issue-free. As happy-making as a sip of perfectly brewed, slightly sweetened tea with a side of cookies.
The Teashop Girls is published by Simon & Schuster.