by Laura Schaefer
One thumb up; one thumb down.
The story starts out as thirteen--almost fourteen--year old Annie is standing on her head in the closet of her Grandmother, Louisa's teashop, the Steeping Leaf. She is calming her nerves in anticipation of some coming stress the reader is not yet privy to. All of a sudden, she is knocked over by the cutest boy in the world who is carrying a large box into the closet.
So starts the story. As the story unfolds, Annie finds out that the Steeping Leaf is not a profitable business and Louisa may have to sell it. But Annie, who loves the shop, calls in reinforcements, the Teashop girls. Annie and her two best friends spent their girlhoods in the shop and Louisa encouraged them start a tea lovers club called the Teashop Girls. The three girls now must fight for the very life of the Steeping Leaf.
There are several very nice touches the author includes that make the book appealing. Each chapter beginning is decorated with a pen and ink wash of something one might find in a teashop: a cup and saucer, a teapot, or some delicacy such as a luscious looking layer cake. The pages are interspersed with reproductions of old ads promoting the benefits and joys of tea and recipes for teashop specialties. The author fills the story with little historical anecdotes of tea, tea drinkers and unusual tea facts. Of course she includes instructions for making a perfect pot of tea.
The characters are quirky. The plot is sweet. Annie and her friends deal with typical early teen issues such as crushes, too many outside activities, misunderstandings, frustration with parents and family, etc.
But with many things going for it, the story somehow falls flat. I really wanted to like this story. It was one of several books I read while on vacation. I thought that maybe I just couldn't concentrate through all the excitement of vacation. But when I mentioned to my daughter, who had also read it, that it wasn't really grabbing me, she agreed, saying that it was kind of boring.
The one character I didn't care for was the grandmother, Louisa. Her late husband was a UW Madison botany professor. He had specialized in the history and uses of Eastern herbs or some such thing. Louisa was a practitioner of yoga and other Eastern philosophical stuff. She cured her customers problems with a combination of Eastern philosophy and herbal remedies. Annie also, idolizing her grandmother as she did, was well versed in yoga and its philosophies. It all was a little surreal, I guess.
That said, the story was set in Madison, WI. I attended college there. So I do realize this character is not far-fetched. In fact, I probably could list several people of the same age demographic upon whom Louisa's character may have been based. All the same it isn't the kind of character I want my daughters to emulate or admire.
If you can stick with it, however, the book is worth reading just for all the fun stuff.