The Patron Thief of Bread, by Lindsay Eager

The Patron Thief of Bread, by Lindsay Eager (May 17th 2022, Candlewick) is a heart-warming and heart-wrenching story of a orphan girl's journey towards a safe place in the world.

Atop the unfinished cathedral of the town of Odierne sit its gargoyles, themselves unfinished.  All but one spend the days gossiping about what they see below; the outlier stares out like the others, but has no patience for ideal chatter.  He is full of frustration; gargoyles are supposed to protect, but he is a lump of stone who was unable to save a woman who jumped from his perch long ago to escape arrest.  She and the baby she carried were swept away, leaving the gargoyle to bitter musings.

The baby was fished from the river by a gang of kid thieves, lead by a fiercely intelligent and fiercely lawless boy named Gnat. Little Duck, as they called her, is the youngest of the group, and it's not till the gang's roamings bring them to Odierne, making the cathedral ruins their home, that she's trusted to take on a direct heist on her own.  She must pass a false coin at the baker's, and if she fails to bring back bread, she's sure she'll be cast out.  

And she is successful, winning a more secure place in her young family of thieves.  But then Gnat comes up with his most cunning plan yet--if Duck is apprenticed to the baker, she'll be in a lovely position to syphon off bread and coin to her family....But when Duck is welcomed by the baker, Griselde, and given a room of her own, and given trust as well, she starts down of a path of divided loyalties that almost breaks her.  Over the next year, the pulling on her heart intensifies, and at last she is forced to chose who she will betray...the family of kids who raised her, or the woman who is willing to give her love and safety and a living doing what she loves.  All the while the gargoyle watches, and finally is able to fulfil his destiny as a protector.

I loved all the details of being apprenticed to a baker (I am a big fan of books in which there is lots of making and crafting), and such a lovely baker too! Griselde is really the one of the best mother figures in any middle grade book I've read for ages, and I really liked that she needs Duck in her life to love just as much as Duck needs her. But the overall situation was so tense and discomfiting this was not at all a comfort read...the tension is strung out from beginning to end, tightening to a breaking point where I had to start skimming a bit (reading the end didn't help, because I knew, it being middle grade, things would almost certainly work out, but the process of things working out was very stressful for me the reader!)

It's not action-packed, but more character driven, so don't go into it expecting lots of middle grade fantasy high jinx! It is fantasy, in as much as it's an alternate world, with the sentient gargoyle providing a depressed gargoyle's point of view (in alternate perspectives with Duck's story), but it's not full of magic. Just found family and bread, and worry....lots of love, and, indeed, the happy ending I was hoping for (although it comes with some interesting twists, and a high cost).

Short answer--one I can easily imaging wanting to re-read in a year or so, and I'll enjoy it even more the second time around (this is why I like re-reading....)

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.


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