Roses Take Practice


Wylie Steele, a high school senior, has dreams of escaping her alcoholic family and dying New England Mill town, but no apparent means of making the dream a reality. She gets a job at Ida’s bakery where Sofie Schmidt, a seventy-year-old German immigrant, has worked for twenty years. Sofie’s fifty-year-old, gay son, Martin, escaped Rivertown and his demanding mother years ago and rarely comes back to visit. Wylie and Sofie’s relationship is full of tension and misunderstandings. Wylie, hopeful that the money she earns could be her ticket out of town, struggles to fit the job into a life already full of family responsibilities, her boyfriend, Danny, and school. Sofie teaches Wylie cake decorating which the girl uses to make strange and wonderful cakes. It becomes a form of self-expression. Their relationship grows as Sofie, cranky as she is, becomes attached to Wylie. Wylie, for the first time in her life, has someone giving her something. Martin is summoned home when Sofie breaks her hip. Wylie and he struggle over what role each of them is meant to play in her healing process and form their own tension filled relationship. Wylie’s home life deteriorates until her mother, Lucy, is threatened with losing the kids at which point Lucy finally tries to quit drinking. After Sofie reinjures her hip, gives up hope and lets herself die, Wylie is left with Sofie’s VW Beetle, her own developed cake decorating talents and the inspiration of Martin’s life away from Rivertown. But what if her family can’t function without her?

Reader Review

ROSES TAKE PRACTICE is Connie Biewald’s warmest and most hopeful book yet. The main character, Wylie Steele, is a terrific blend of tough teenage girl, small-town innocent, and hard-working dreamer. She has a host of things going against her–a dead father, an alcoholic mother, a pyromaniacal brother, and a boyfriend who wants all the things she doesn’t want–and if Connie Biewald were a less capable author, we would spend the entire 188 pages watching Wylie fall victim to her own missteps and misfortune.

Instead, the book opens with Wylie taking a chance. She applies for a job at the local bakery, sure that a) she is not going to get the job, and b) even if she does get it, she could never work with the elderly, overbearing, and demanding Sofie Schmidt. But Sofie does offer Wylie the job, and Wylie, despite her fears, accepts it.

From this little butterfly-wing of a moment, ROSES TAKE PRACTICES swirls and spins until both Wylie and Sofie are caught up in a whirlwind of changes–some good, some bad. The book does a brilliant job of exploring the relationship between love and change, how it’s impossible to achieve one without risking the other. But it’s the characters themselves who make the book so wonderful and memorable. In fact, once you finish ROSES TAKE PRACTICE, you won’t just remember Wylie and Sofie. You’ll miss them.