“Gingerbread” by Helen Oyeyemi takes the dessert’s role in fairy tales and turns it into a convoluted story between two families and one girl seeking the truth about her father.
Harriet Lee is a teacher but has a specialty in making gingerbread and sharing it whenever she can. Her daughter, Perdita, yearns to eat the gingerbread, but she has celiac disease. Soon Perdita makes a life-threatening decision, and Harriet realizes it’s because her daughter wants to know who her father is and where Harriet’s homeland of Druhástrana is since it can’t be found on a map. While Perdita recuperates, Harriet tells her daughter the family history and how she ended up making gingerbread as an expertise. The tale starts in the farmlands of Druhástrana and heads to London where Harriet becomes a star gingerbread maker with a group of girls, including her friend Gretel. These girls seem to be used for child labor to create the desserts for mostly hungry men. Eventually Harriet and her mother, Margot, move in with the rich family, their distant cousins the Kerchevals, who brought Harriet into the gingerbread world and their destinies intersect and result in Harriet’s independence.
First, this book starts describing the characters and their histories quickly and then it becomes a rabbit hole of overdone character development that doesn’t feed the story. When you hear about a novel like this based on the legend of gingerbread in fairy tales, this is not what you expect. The story can be followed, but there’s too much detail that doesn’t move the story forward. For example, groups of characters are introduced from the Parental Power Association to Perdita’s talking dolls to the Kerchevals, where there are several people named but not all the characters are developed enough to add anything to the story.
Overall, the story collapses into too many other stories that may be hard to follow for some or may not be interesting enough.