The Hundred Gifts by Jennifer Scott is about a woman who is at a crossroads in her life: her children have both left the nest, her husband Gary is careening towards a mid-life crisis, and her weight keeps creeping up the scale. Bren is pretty unhappy, and doesn't know what to do about it. Visiting a local donut shop, she runs into a woman who is opening a business next door--a cooking class business--and Bren agrees to be the teacher for upcoming classes about creating an interesting Thanksgiving dinner. She is a pretty good cook, but feels completely inadequate. She convinces her mother and Aunt Cathy to join, sure no one will sign up. An odd ball group of ladies sign up for the classes, and Bren has her work cut out for her.
And then disaster strikes. Virginia Marsh is a grumpy old lady who lives above the cooking class space, and won't put up with smelling burnt food and noisy people. She ruins every cooking class by stomping down the stairs and interrupts the class with threats of calling the police and kicking them out. She gives Bren serious doubts as to her ability to teach a class. In the midst of this, and her husband's attempts to start a band in the basement, Bren is deeply unhappy. She decides that perhaps Virginia needs some kindness in her life, and together the ladies decide they will give 100 gifts to Virginia. Killing that annoyance with kindness, sounds like a good plan, right?
Except the ladies don't know Virginia's story, and it is a sad one to tell. That story, told alongside Bren's attempts to turn her marriage around and find a new purpose in life, make up the bulk of this novel. Sometimes Christmas is a reminder of all we have lost, and what we used to have. It is a time for reflection, and a time to decide how to begin again.
This novel was not as light-hearted as I had expected it to be, but that didn't diminish my reading experience. It was about ordinary people, in an ordinary time, dealing with ordinary problems. And mostly it was about finding friendship in extraordinary places.
Rating: 7/10 for a novel that uses Christmas as a background to explore friendship, life changes, and the power of giving.
Available in paperback and e-book.