This book. THIS BOOK. This was not the book I expected when I started reading, AT ALL, but Wiley Cantrell and his son Noah stole my heart. This story more than anything else is about love . First and foremost the love of a father and son, but also the love of a man for his home, the love of where he comes from, the love for the people that have impacted his life, his love of music, of life, of what the future could bring. Wiley Cantrell is probably one of the strongest characters I’ve read in this genre, he had the heart of a lion.
Before I get into things I’ll talk about what I made for this book. I went back and forth on different recipes, and was tempted to do something Southern, but decided on going with Vegan Cinnamon Rolls. The reason being that they are my daughter’s favorite and she LOVES helping me make them, clearly this was the winning choice. These rolls are delish, and keep well for a few days. With some coffee in the mornings they are a lovely breakfast in this cold weather.
Now back to the story…There were many things I loved about this book. I loved the writing and I loved the setting. I completely enjoyed the raw and fierce love Wiley had for his son. All good, GOOD things. But Wiley himself, man, that guy went straight for my soul. I could relate to him in such a deep, and basic level it was staggering at times. Wiley lives in the Deep South, Tupelo, Mississippi, the birthplace of Elvis Presley. He is an out and proud gay man, in his early thirties. As a struggling writer, him and his little boy live on his minimum wage part-time job at Foodworld, and public assistance. His 10 year old is a special needs child, he is deaf, one of the defects resulting from having been born addicted to meth. Wiley has raised Noah alone, since his mom left as soon as he was born and Wiley refused to hand off his son to anyone. Wiley LOVES his son, more than anything and anyone. He has done everything in his power to give Noah a loving home, it has been hard to do. Noah was born a little cyclone of problems, his little body wrecked as a result of his mother’s addiction.
It’s been a haze of health issues and anger, so much pain. Wiley feels so responsible for the pain and difficulties his little boy has to live with. But Wiley he keeps on going. Despite how unsupportive his family can be, sure they love him, but they never loose a chance to tear him down over his homosexuality. Everywhere he turns it seems, everything he is to people boils down to the disgrace which that is his sexuality. It’s not easy being a gay man in the South, a poor gay man with a special needs son is damn hard. A gay man with a deaf son who still loves God, and his church and wants to be a part of the community that he came from…It’s a study in heartbreak. It seems like the odds are just stocked up against him, no matter what he does.
Yet Wiley enjoys his son, his life, he finds joy in the good things in it. But he is lonely and bitterness can seep in at times. One day a young man from Boston walks up to Wiley’s lane at the Foodworld, and instantly there is a spark. Jackson is his name, he is a pediatric nurse and seems to be just as smitten with Noah as he is with Wiley. This is a good thing, a VERY good thing, but things are far from simple. Noah wants to see his mother, who has no interest in him. Wiley’s brother is increasingly hateful and bigoted. He doesn’t miss an opportunity to put him down. It is so hard to keep his chin up when all he hears is negativity. Even Noah who he loves more than his life at times makes Wiley despair. Jackson, he is something to hope for, someone who could walk with him, support him, but even he comes with his own complications and disappointments. But Wiley is not a quitter, he keeps challenging his family, his friends, his church, his community to SEE him for what he is, a man trying to be a good father, a man trying to live a good life, a man trying to live up to the love his son has for him, a man trying to be better.
This book covered so many things that are incredibly close to my heart. The plight of the working poor in this country is something which hangs out in the shadows most of the time, specially in romantic fiction. The hard reality of undocumented immigrants, the invisible people in our society…The sadness of being from a place you love, but won’t love you back. There are so many whose lives are an eternal fight not just for acceptance, but literally to have the things that many of us take fro granted, keeping their kids fed and under a roof.
Paired with all these things that to me are incredibly important and sobering, this book was a JOY to read. It was FUN. So much about Wiley’s family seemed so familiar…Put your crazy on the porch? Hell yes! I know all about that. My own Crazy Uncle is still cold calling people 10 hours a day trying to book gigs for the all-girl merengue band he’s been managing for the past 30 years IN HIS HEAD! So Pawpaw, he’s my kind of guy. Wiley and his cutting humor and relentlessness, he would stand down for no one. EVER. I loved that. He was so hard on himself, so jaded that he could barely believe he’d get a happily ever after that was just for him…He did though. He DID.
Ok yeah, this book. Amazing, can’t say enough. Recommend it completely and it is solidly in my all time favorites list. Wiley, Noah and all their people are unforgettable. This story is all about the LOVE.
Shaking the Sugar Tree is available for purchase here.
Easy and Delicious Vegan Cinnamon Rolls
1 packet instant yeast
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1/2 cup Earth balance (vegan butter), divide
1/4 tsp salt
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 Tbsp cinnamon
1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp sugar, divided
In a large sauce pan (or in a bowl in the microwave at 30 sec increments), heat the almond milk and 3 Tbsp Earth Balance until warm and melted, never reaching boiling. Remove from heat and let cool, or the temperature of bath water. It should be warm but not too hot or it will kill the yeast.
Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl and sprinkle on yeast. Let activate for 10 minutes, then add 1 Tbsp sugar and the salt and stir.
Next add in flour 1/2 cup at a time, stirring as you go. The dough will be sticky. When it is too thick to stir, transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead for a minute or so until it forms a loose ball. Rinse your mixing bowl out, coat it with canola, and add your dough ball back in. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise for about 1 hour, or until doubled in size (see photo).
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a thin rectangle. Brush with 3 Tbsp melted Earth Balance and top with 1/4 cup sugar and 1/2 – 1Tbsp cinnamon.
Starting at one end, tightly roll up the dough and situate seam side down. Then with a serrated knife or a string of floss, cut the dough into 1.5 – 2 inch sections and position in a well-buttered 8×8 square or comparable sized round pan (you should have about 10 rolls). Brush with remaining 2 Tbsp Earth Balance (melted) and cover with plastic wrap. Set on top of the oven to let rise again while you preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Once the oven is hot, bake rolls for 25-30 minutes or until slightly golden brown. Let cool for a few minutes and then serve immediately
For the frosting do a simple mixture of powdered sugar and almond milk.
Hope that you enjoy this amazing book and give the cinnamon rolls a try. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Cheers and Happy Reading,