Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory by Stacey Wakefield (review)

In early May, I totally hurt my back.  I was pretty much out of commission for the better part of a week.  This is the sort of thing that has started to happen to me with too much frequency, and also the sort of thing that only a few good books can make bearable.  It was just my luck that I had just started Stacy Wakefield's The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory when my injury befell me, and said book was of the most absorbing variety possible.

It's 1995 when Sid arrives in New York City determined to follow her dream of joining the thriving NYC squatting scene.  She imagines reclaiming a piece of a derelict, abandoned building to have a certain romance to it, and she shows up ready to take her place among the anarchists and punk rockers who have colonized the Lower East Side.  Unfortunately, she's a little late to the movement, the established squats of the Lower East Side are full, and it's already midsummer - not much time to make a home she hasn't found yet habitable before winter comes on.  It seems the only choice for Sid and the guy she wishes was her boyfriend is to move their search for a squat to Brooklyn where they throw in with a group of different sorts of squatters in an old bread factory in Williamsburg.

The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory is a strange and wonderful little book that I really enjoyed.  First, it's unique.  Wakefield really pulled back the curtain on an interesting time in New York City history that has gone under-explored.  Secondly, it almost has the feel of a very compellingly written memoir.  There's no clear theme or plot here, no preachy moralizing, just a zoomed in look at a very formative time of a very sympathetic narrator.  There's no clear beginning or end, no contrived-seeming progression of events.  Wakefield's novel feels very organic, and despite what would seem to be my comments to the contrary, it's a fast and engaging read with an ending that's not exactly final, but is satisfying nonetheless.  Sunshine Crust is gritty and real without being gross or off-putting.  It features a loveable narrator, one who's interested in falling in love but whose life isn't defined in terms of her love interest(s).     

The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory is the sort of book that I wish the New Adult genre had aspired to.  Wakefield perfectly captures that time in a young person's life when everything seems possible, when we still believe that with enough courage and sacrifice the lives we imagine for ourselves can become a reality.  Sid is perfectly idealistic, not looking to change the world necessarily, but believing that she knows what she wants, and that she can make it happen if she gives it her all.  What she gets as she follows her dreams, what we all get, really, is a lot of struggle, a lot of feeling like she doesn't quite measure up to the person she's trying to be, and a lot of loneliness punctuated with a few bright, shining moments where she really does feel like she's arrived where she'd always intended to be.  If you ask me, this is what it's really like being a new adult, finding the limits to the life you dreamed of, struggling to figure out who you are, what you're made of, and where you fit in the landscape of the real world when the safety net is torn away.

This is a great book and a perfect introduction, for me, to indie press Akashic Books (who generously provided me with a copy for review.).  Highly recommended for people who wish the New Adult genre would dig a little deeper and (and this is totally just a feeling I have rather than any rational reasons I can point to) fans of The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

(Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for review consideration.)


  1. "It features a loveable narrator, one who's interested in falling in love but whose life isn't defined in terms of her love interest(s)."

    That's refreshing. The NYC squatting scene sounds fascinating. I had no idea anything like that was a movement in the mid-1990s.

  2. This sounds really good. I've never heard of New York's squatting scene. Between that and the realistic portrayal of being a young adult, I think I'll give this book a try.