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Read August 9th.

Extremely fun YA centered around food and cooking. Elaine is a senior in high school whose mother is chef and part-owner of a nice-sounding fusion restaurant, and Elaine's been cooking since she can remember. She knows the kitchen is home, and she knows she wants to spend the rest of her life in it-- in fact, she would like her own cooking show. As she puts it, "Do you know how many African-American female celebrity chefs there aren't?" But her mother wants her to keep her options open about liberal arts colleges, and do things besides cooking absolutely all the time, and her best friend from when they were younger (and on whom she has a crush) is going through a rough patch with his parents, and it all collides.

There are many lovely things about this book. One of my favorites is the way that it is nuanced, the way that Elaine is being a teenager and knowing that her mother doesn't understand her, and in some ways her mother doesn't. But there're also bits like the thing where her mother's telling her, maybe pick up a business degree too? and Elaine doesn't notice, but in the background we can see her mother struggling with the bills and publicity and the whole business end of being a chef. Elaine thinks it's an attempt to sidetrack her, but it's an attempt to help her go forward. Except that it never occurs to her mother to sit down and say to her look, you will need business skills in the life you have chosen and should consider all angles, which means it is, in fact, her mother deciding what's best for her, which is what Elaine does not like. You see. Nicely complicated.

And the kitchen stuff is right. It's an unusually polite kitchen, but there are some like that out there-- I've heard that nobody uses language in the kitchen at Nobu that would shock anybody's grandmother. The logistics are right. The thing where Elaine gets yelled at viciously in a way that's never happened before during a rush and it hurts and she doesn't notice that it's because she's getting treated exactly like staff and not like a teenage intern/owner's daughter was perfect.

There are recipes, too, and they are that rarity that one basically doesn't see in cookbooks, or fiction, for that matter: recipes in restaurant format. They could have been torn out of the book of the place I worked-- there are places things are crossed out and rewritten just to make the print more clear, because someone's gonna have to consult it on the fly. There are notes on the process of coming up with the dish, notes about what could be changed, notes about directions to experiment and whether the recipe-writer has tried them, notes about possible menu accompaniments, all in the same legible, carefully responsible, someone-not-me-has-to-make-this-dish-recognizably-in-ten-years house-standardized manner. I haven't even tried any of them and I can tell you: these are good recipes. Whether or not one might happen to like the food. (I suspect I would. Carrot macaroons!)

The Great Peril of this sort of YA novel has been summarized neatly by [personal profile] buymeaclue in the review in which she stated about some book or other, "Too much boyfriend, not enough roller derby". There is boyfriend in this book. I do not think there is too much of him. I will freely admit that I would prefer it if there were none at all and it were an entirely kitchen-centered slice-of-life day-to-day teen cooking book, but that is me, and Elaine does, in fact, have to learn some things about people and the ways that they behave outside kitchens and the ways that food does and does not serve as a social aide under different circumstances. Her reaction to everything is to cook. One's reaction to some things should be, for instance, to talk to people about them. This is a fair point. It's just, I'm a person who stress-bakes myself. My reaction to the stresses Elaine has in this book can be summarized as 'clafoutis', which is, you know, worse than muffins but not as bad as brioche. (My reaction to the last couple of months of my own life is 'I MUST MAKE CHINESE DUMPLINGS FOR EVERYONE I CAN CRAM INTO THE ROOM FOR MY BIRTHDAY. SIX KINDS OF THEM. TRY TO STOP ME.') So when the guy was stressing Elaine and she wanted him to go away or stay put or just make sense so she could bake, I was right there with that.

In short, this is a very good book, and it gets a lot of complex things right without sacrificing readability. And, thank you, O marketing department, one reason I picked it up was that I thought 'Huh. Nice-looking teenage black girl on book cover with foodie title, which cover turns out to correctly represent the protagonist. When was the last time I saw that?' So good job there.


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