Books with Bakers, Chefs, and Other Food Enthusiasts

Everyone has to do it eventually but surprisingly few YA fiction books have any reference to it. I’m talking about cooking and baking, of course. This list features books for teens with bakers, chefs, and foodies.

collage cover art for Books with Bakers book listClick book titles to read my review where applicable. You can shop the titles on this list plus a few bonus suggestions on Bookshop.

If you want even more titles check out the “cooking & baking” tag on my blog for every book I’ve reviewed that features cooking or baking.

  • Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake: Hadley and Sam are both hurting. They’re feeling abandoned and maybe even betrayed by their parents’ choices. Neither of them expects to find comfort or connection with the other–especially Sam who knows exactly how ludicrous their mutual attraction really is–but then they find exactly that. And maybe more
  • A La Carte by Tanita S. Davis: Lainey dreams of becoming a chef and having her own cooking show one day. With the lack of African American female chefs–not to mention vegetarian ones–she figures her odds of hitting it big are excellent. When her best friend (and crush) moves away, Lainey finds comfort in the kitchen as she works through new recipes and makes peace with the past.
  • Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen: Sydney is used to living in her older brother Peyton’s shadow. When Peyton is sent to jail for drunk driving, Sydney tracks down the victim of the accident and finds herself drawn into the warm and chaotic world of the Chathams and the pizza parlor they run.
  • Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg: Both Macallan and Levi are pretty sure they’re better as friends than anything else. Except they can’t help wondering if the complications that come with being more than friends might just be worth it.
  • Taste Test by Kelly Fiore: As accidents mount in the kitchen arena of Taste Test, a new televised cooking competition, Nora has to try to find the culprit while proving she has what it takes to win.
  • Stir It Up! by Ramin Ganeshram: Anjali dreams of hosting a cooking show where she can showcase dishes inspired by her Hindu and Trinidadian heritage. When she has the chance to compete in a cooking show will she be able to defy her family and attend the audition?
  • The Cupcake Queen by Heather Hepler: Penny’s life is far from sweet when her mother moves them from the big city to Hog’s Hollow so that she can open a cupcake bakery.
  • The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil, illustrated by Mike Lawrence: Alba loves living behind the bakery, drawing comics, and watching bad TV with her friends. Unfortunately Alba’s comfortable life is thrown into chaos by the return of a boy she used to know, complications with her best friend, and the flock of doomsday enthusiasts coming to Eden Valley for the end of the world.
  • Sunshine by Robin McKinley: Baker Rae “Sunshine” Seddon’s life takes a dramatic turn when she is abducted by a gang of vampires. And survives.
  • Heartless by Marissa Meyer: Catherine is more interested in baking than the attentions of Wonderland’s unmarried King–especially when she has big plans to open her own shop and is secretly courting Jest. Cath wants to choose her own path but in a land filled with madness and magic, she may not get the chance.
  • Cake Pop Crush by Suzanne Nelson: Alice Ramirez loves baking and helping at her father’s bakery, Say It With Flour. When a rival coffee shop opens across the street, Ali tries to give her family an edge with trendy cake pops.
  • The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier: Keri has her hands running her bakery when she is unexpectedly chosen as the next Lady of Nimmera. Only time will tell if one inexperienced and unexpected heir will be enough to repair Nimmera’s quickly fading boundary magic and help the small country thrive even in the face of imminent invasion.
  • Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler: Hudson gave up her ice skates for baking cupcakes at her mom’s diner after a betrayal completely altered her plans for her future. When she has a chance to start coaching the boys hockey team, Hudson will also haveto decide if she wants to start skating again on her own terms.
  • The Prank List by Anna Staniszewski: Rachel Lee will do anything to save her mother’s cleaning business if it means not moving to Connecticut and losing her new best friend, almost-boyfriend, and her pastry classes.
  • Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater: Every year when the temperature drops, Sam changes into a wolf–Grace’s wolf, the one always watching her from a safe distance–trapped in his changed form until spring when the temperatures rise and he can become Sam again. Once Grace knows the truth, sees her wolf made human, losing him is unimaginable. Being with Grace is all Sam has ever wanted; the one thing he always held onto as a wolf. But the temperature is falling in Mercy Falls and Grace and Sam are running out of time.
  • Pizza, Love & Other Stuff That Made Me Famous by Kathryn Williams: Sophie Nicolaides grew up in her family’s Italian-Greek restaurant. But is that enough to prepare her to compete on the Teen Test Kitchen reality show?
  • Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood: Between moving, having no money, changing schools, and his father suddenly revealing that he’s gay Dan has more than enough issues without an impossible crush on the girl next door. Dan narrows all of his problems to six impossible things. With a penchant for making lists and following through, Dan is optimistic about fixing at least some of them–maybe even his mom’s wedding cake business that seems to result in more cancelled weddings than actual cakes.

An earlier version of this piece originally appeared on YALSA’s Hub Blog in 2017.

Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laekan Zea KempPenelope “Pen” Prado dreams of opening her own pastelería next to her father’s restaurant (and local institution in Austin, Texas): Nacho’s Tacos. While Pen has managed to get her experimental desserts on the menu, her traditional parents are unwilling to let Pen go any further instead wanting her to focus on nursing school. Watching her brother flounder managing the restaurant, Pen finally admits she’s been skipping classes and finds herself fired.

Pen’s last day is Xander Amaro’s first and his opportunity to finally change his luck and make a place for himself with his aging abuelo. Meeting when both of them are spinning out, shouldn’t lead anywhere. Except it does drawing Pen and Xander together in the heady reality of first love, finding their own paths, and working together to save the restaurant that comes to mean everything to both of them in Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet (2021) by Laekan Zea Kemp.

Find it on Bookshop.

Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet is Kemp’s debut novel. The story alternates between Pen and Xander’s first person narration.

Kemp brings the setting of Austin, Texas and its Chicanx vibrantly to life while offering a carefully detailed behind-the-scenes look at the fast-paced, high octane world of a restaurant kitchen.

Staccato writing and snappy dialog immediately draw readers into Pen and Xander’s stories as the two crash into each others’ orbit. Pen’s vicious anxiety attacks and Xander’s own stressors worrying about his grandfather and his own immigrant status can make for a claustrophobic–and nerve-inducing–narration.

Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet is a thoughtful, fast-paced story perfect for readers looking for a romance with an unlikely connection and delicious food descriptions.

Possible Pairings: Permanent Record by Mary HK Choi, The Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy Colbert, Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan, When We Collided by Emery Lord, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez

The Secret Recipe for Moving On: A Review

The Secret Recipe for Moving On by Karen BischerTransferring high schools in the middle of junior year when her father’s restaurant went bust was hard but now Mary Ellen “Ellie” Agresti has the perfect boyfriend and new friends as she starts her senior year.

Until Ellie is dumped right when school starts so Hunter can get together with his childhood best friend Brynn.

Now Ellie has to watch Hunter and Brynn being lovey-dovey everywhere–including a class they all share. Applicable Life Skills for Young Adults (AKA Home Ec) was supposed to be an easy A but now it’s an easy way to get Ellie’s blood boiling.

Hoping to salvage the class and her senior year, Ellie focuses on revenge. If she can beat Hunter’s team, that will mean she wins the breakup and the class competition. The only problem is that Ellie’s pretend “family” for class is more like a group of misfits with loudmouth AJ, horse racing junkie Isaiah, and stunt-biker Luke.

Bonds can form in the unlikeliest places but even Ellie isn’t sure what to do when her “family” starts to feel like friends (or maybe even more with Luke) especially when she still isn’t sure how to get over the breakup she never saw coming in The Secret Recipe for Moving On (2021) by Karen Bischer.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Secret Recipe for Moving On is Bischer’s debut novel.

Any charm to be derived from this plot, is lost early on as the entire first twenty per cent of the book focuses on the build up to the breakup and Ellie’s initial wallowing. While the immediacy of Ellie’s distress is admirable, I didn’t need to feel like I was going through the entire thing with her–particularly when jacket copy suggests the breakup is a done deal by the time the story starts.

The Secret Recipe for Moving On is also hopelessly mired in classism and sexism which, although it is acknowledged, is never fully interrogated. During the home ec class each group of students is assigned an imaginary family to work with for their budget and other class projects. Ellie’s group is “stuck” with a single mother raising two children on a bus driver’s salary. Much to the group’s dismay (even though both Ellie and Luke are low income students compared to their classmates).

Combining their initials, the group decides to call their family “JAILE” saying it will intimidate other teams (by implying prison connotations?) which is further insulting. Finally, the point where I knew I was done with this book was when a classmate in a rival “family” told Ellie and her group that their single mother could turn to stripping for extra cash or rely on food stamps during a grocery shopping exercise. While the character behind these remarks is eventually cast as a villain, the comments themselves stigmatizing poverty, sex work, and government support are never addressed or commented on.

During the same shopping exercise, AJ picks up two grapefruits pretending to be a woman while shopping (you can imagine) and the only comment is Luke acknowledging with a look that the joke might be less funny given Ellie’s presence. As part of the core group AJ has some growth as the story progresses too but, again, we are past the point where sexist remarks or actions like this should ever get a pass.

The Secret Recipe for Moving On has all of the pieces to be a fun and sweet story. Unfortunately, the book takes too long to interrogate all of the really problematic elements–for the ones that are examined at all. Readers looking for a fun rom com should pick this one up with caution.

Possible Pairings: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo, Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, Lucky Caller by Emma Mills, Cake Pop Crush by Suzanne Nelson, A Taste for Love by Jennifer Yen

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Don’t Date Rosa Santos: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Demand more of your possibilities.”

Don't Date Rosa Santos by Nina MorenoEveryone knows that the Santos women don’t go near the water. Not anymore. Rosa Santos knows that better than anyone. After her grandfather died to make sure Rosa’s pregnant grandmother made it to Florida, and after her own father died at sea when her mother was eighteen and pregnant, Rosa knows that the Santos women and boys on boats don’t mix.

Despite her grandmother’s bad memories, Rosa is desperate to visit Cuba herself. Something she thought she had finally figured out with a dual enrollment program at her local community college and a study abroad program at a four year university.

Just when Rosa can start to imagine herself walking along the maricon in Havana, the study abroad program is cancelled leaving all of Rosa’s plans up in the air. Which is how Rosa, the girl who has never set foot near Port Coral’s beach finds herself organizing the annual spring festival to try and save the local marina.

Rosa’s reluctant helper is Alex Aquino whose family owns the marina. Back in town for the first time since graduation, Alex is not the gawky boy Rosa remembers. This Alex has tattoos, a beard, and a smile that just might be lethal. He also has baking skills and, worst of all, his own boat.

As Rosa and Alex grow closer, Rosa has to decide if a family curse is a good enough reason to give up on all of the things she wants most in Don’t Date Rosa Santos (2019) by Nina Moreno.

Find it on Bookshop.

Don’t Date Rosa Santos is Moreno’s debut novel. Through Rosa’s narration readers are introduced to the charming town of Port Coral, Florida and its quirky residents.

While the main plot focuses on Rosa’s efforts to save the Port Coral marina, this is a story about grief and family history. Rosa has grown up with her grandmother, Mimi, learning Mimi’s tricks when it comes to brujeria and making a home for herself in Port Coral. Meanwhile, Rosa’s mother is a wandering artist who hasn’t felt at home in Port Coral since her teens when Rosa’s father died. All three generations of women have been touched by tragedy–a linking thread that drives the family further apart instead of drawing them together.

These ruminations on grief are tempered with the madcap preparations for the festival and Rosa’s tentative romance with Alex–one of the best male leads you’ll find in a YA rom com–and Rosa’s efforts to try and understand her own family’s history both in Port Coral and in Cuba.

Don’t Date Rosa Santos is a perfect blend of the setting from Gilmore Girls, the magic in Practical Magic, and just a hint of the strong family ties in Charmed. The perfect choice for readers looking for a sweet romance with humor and intrigue in equal measure. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: With the Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo, Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant, Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova, The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake, Now That I’ve Found You by Kristina Forest, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow by Laura Taylor Namey, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, By the Book by Amanda Sellet, Recommended For You by Laura Silverman, Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar

Happily Ever Afters: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Happily Ever Afters by Elise BryantAs a shy introvert, there’s nowhere Tessa Johnson would rather be that sitting down at her laptop writing. Tessa rarely sees herself in the romance novels she loves to read. So instead she writes her own, creating love stories where she and her best friend Caroline can finally see themselves as leading ladies. Writing is the one place Tessa feels like she is fully in control of her life. Sharing her writing with anyone but Caroline is a different story.

While moving for her father’s promotion is hard, Tessa hopes that starting her junior year at an arts school with a creative writing program will make the transition easier. The only problem is that Tessa fails to consider that being in a writing program means people will want to read–and critique!–her writing. Suddenly Tessa’s dream school turns into a nightmare when she loses all of her inspiration and her confidence.

Without any other ideas, Tessa agrees to follow Caroline’s advice: find some real-life inspiration with romance-novel inspired ideas while getting close to the incredibly cute, romance-cover-worthy visual arts student Nico. Checking things off her list turns out to be easy, but Tessa isn’t sure if it’s really going to help her find her words again–or the right guy for her own perfect ending in Happily Ever Afters (2021) by Elise Bryant.

Find it on Bookshop.

Happily Ever Afters is Bryant’s debut novel. The story is narrated by Tessa.

Having a Black father and a white mother, Tessa was used to never fitting in at her previous school where she and Caroline (who is Filipina) initially bonded as two of the only students of color. In addition to the culture shock of a conservatory program, Tessa is thrilled to find a much more diverse group of students at her new school as she bonds with new friends on her own for the first time.

Although Tessa struggles with anxiety and panic attacks, the novel is imbued with humor even as things go wrong. This levity is much needed to counter heavier parts of the story as Tessa balances her own life with the responsibilities and expectations her parents have for Tessa to help with her older brother Miles who has athetoid cerebral palsy which has led to mobility challenges and mental impairment.

While Tessa tries, with varying levels of success, to get closer to Nico, readers can appreciate Tessa’s swoony moments with neighbor and culinary arts student Sam. Both Tessa and Sam struggle with impostor syndrome as Tessa wonders if her romantic stories really “count” as creative writing while Sam tries to justify baking as an art to himself as much as to anyone else.

Happily Ever Afters is an ode to romance novels, creativity, and fandoms. A sweet story about how sometimes you have to learn to love yourself–and your passions–without apology before you can learn to love someone else.

Possible Pairings: Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno, Simone Breaks All the Rules by Debbie Rigaud, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, By the Book by Amanda Sellet, Recommended For You by Laura Silverman, Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Recommended For You: A Review

Recommended For You by Laura SilvermanShoshanna Greenberg is a fixer. When her moms start fighting enough that they both miss the annual family Latkepalooza on the last night of Hanukkah, Shoshanna wants to fix it before her family implodes.

With the tensions at home and her constant worries about money to fix her much loved car, it feels like her one refuge is Once Upon, the local bookstore where Shoshanna works. That changes with the arrival of new hire Jake Kaplan–an extremely cute boy who is extremely immune to Shoshanna’s charms and, what’s worse, doesn’t read.

Coworker tensions aside, Shoshanna is thrilled when her boss announces a chance for staff to earn a holiday bonus for selling the most books. The bonus is exactly what she needs to fix her car if nothing else.

The only thing standing in Shoshanna’s way is Jake and his out of the box selling strategies.

As the holiday season amps up, Shoshanna realizes that Jake might be more than a pretty-non-reading face even if he might also be her biggest competition for the holiday bonus in Recommended For You (2020) by Laura Silverman.

Find it on Bookshop.

Silverman puts in the work dismantling the white default in this inclusive story where every character’s skintone is described on the page. The inclusivity and positivity with which Shoshanna views her friends and coworkers (except maybe for Jake when they first meet!) comes through in every description and feels effortless. Once Upon’s owner Myra is woman of color and motorized wheelchair user, Shoshanna’s best friends are Black and Latinx, and Shoshanna’s “work husband” is Black and has a girlfriend with low vision.

Shoshanna is what I would call a strong personality. Her narration and her choices may not work for everyone but her heart is definitely in the right place and, as the story progresses, Shoshanna learns and grows a lot–something I always love to see in a book.

Although Recommended For You keeps things light, this story also offers frank conversations about what marriage problems can look like (something looming over Shoshanna and her moms and something that may not have an easy fix despite Shoshanna’s best efforts) and also thoughtfully explores income diversity. Shoshanna’s friend Cheyenne works at the mall for the experience while Shoshanna is there because it’s the only way she can afford gas money and other car expenses. Meanwhile Shoshanna’s other best friend Geraldine is saving up for a camera to start a beauty vlog while acknowledging she may never be able to compete in the patently expensive world of beauty influencers.

Recommended For You is as funny and exuberant as its heroine. While the winter setting makes this book an ideal choice this holiday season, Shoshanna’s winning personality, the retail shenanigans, and Shoshanna’s not-quite-instant chemistry with Jake make Recommended For You a perfect read any time of the year.

Possible Pairings: Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira; Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett; Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant; Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley; Snow in Love by Melissa de la Cruz, Nic Stone, Aimee Friedman, Kasie West; 10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston; Tweet Cute by Emma Lord; Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno; My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins; By the Book by Amanda Sellet; Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon

When We Vanished: A Review

When We Vanished by Alanna PetersonAndi Lin and her mother are doing everything they can to keep anyone from finding out that her father’s new job is actually participating in a clinical trial at the food corporation Nutrexo.

After Andi hears executives whispering about a dangerous research study at a company party, she worries it might be the same study her dad is involved with–especially since she hasn’t heard from him in over a week. When Andi asks her neighbor Cyrus Mirzapour to help, they wind up in over their heads when a nonviolent protest ends with a bombing and both of them being held captive alongside Cyrus’s older brother, Naveed and younger sister, Roya.

Trapped and desperate to discover the truth and save themselves, Andi and Cyrus find themselves at the center of a conspiracy with consequences that are hard to imagine–and closer to home than either of them realize in When We Vanished (2020) by Alanna Peterson.

Find it on Bookshop.

When We Vanished is Peterson’s debut novel and the start of her Call of the Crow quartet. The book is published by Peterson’s newly created publishing company Rootcity Press which, as their website states, “operates on a not-for-profit model, and donates a portion of all proceeds to grassroots-based organizations focused on racial justice and food equity”

As such, this eco-thriller works to raise awareness about the dangers of fast/processed foods and genetically modified foods some of which can be seen on the book’s companion site Nutrexo Truth.

Unfortunately in sharing these timely messages Peterson’s novel highlights graphic scenes of animal cruelty with “EcoCows” kept in unsanitary and inhumane conditions at Nutrexo and scenes of torture when Naveed is sprayed with a noxious pesticide as part of the villain’s continued experiments leaving him with lasting nerve damage.

While these scenes viscerally showcase the dangers of modifying foods, particularly the increased spread of antibiotic resistant infections, the violence that will stay with readers far longer than the message.

When We Vanished is an unflinching eco-thriller best suited to readers comfortable with gore and grit.

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in an issue of School Library Journal*

Tweet Cute: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Tweet Cute by Emma LordPepper has spent her high school career maintaining a perfect GPA while captaining the swim team and adjusting to life in New York after her family’s burger stand Big League Burger became a major national chain. Not to mention secretly running Big League Burger’s Twitter account for the company’s meme-illiterate social media manager.

The only place where Pepper can admit how little she knows about what she wants next is when she’s talking to Wolf on Weazle–the anonymous chat app that is completely against school rules and impossible to ignore.

Unlike Pepper, Jack doesn’t worry about overachieving at all–his identical twin Ethan has that covered. Especially when Jack is always ready behind the scenes to take over the things Ethan can’t quite manage. Being the lower profile brother has its perks as it gives Jack time to teach himself to create and manage Weazle.

Talking to Sparrow anonymously on his app is the one place where no one is disappointed that Jack isn’t Ethan. It’s also a distraction from working at his family’s shop Girl Cheesing and worrying about the pressure he feels to one day take over the family business.

When Big League Burger steals the recipe for Girl Cheesing’s iconic grilled cheese sandwich, Jack is ready to throw down one Tweet at a time. And Pepper, it turns out, can give as good as she gets when it comes to snark.

All’s fair in love and fast food, but when Pepper and Jack’s Twitter battle escalates to viral proportions they will have to figure out if either of them can transcend their family’s expectations–not to mention their epic rivalry–to give their fledgling friendship a chance to become something more in Tweet Cute (2020) by Emma Lord.

Find it on Bookshop.

Tweet Cute is Lord’s debut novel. The story alternates between Pepper and Jack’s first person narrations. If the premise sounds a little like You’ve Got Mail or The Shop Around the Corner, that’s not just you. The book stays close to the plot of those classics with a few modern twists (and a lot more grilled cheese).

Viral Twitter feud aside, Tweet Cute is a gentle contemporary romance about two characters trying to do the best they can even when they are actively getting in their own way partly due to their own preconceived notions and a lack of communication with friends and family.

Surprising plot twists, satisfying character arcs, and the inventive incorporation of rom-com tropes keep this story from ever feeling stale or predictable.

Tweet Cute is an unexpectedly delightful story of mistaken identity, social media feuds, baking, and fast food. All wrapped up in character arcs centered on forgiveness and learning to understand yourself while you’re still figuring out who that is. In other words: ALL OF MY FAVORITE THINGS. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett; Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake; Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant; Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman; Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum; Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan; Now That I’ve Found You by Kristina Forest; Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks; Of Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon; Analee in Real Life by Janelle Milanes; Lucky Caller by Emma Mills; Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales; Recommended for You by Laura Silverman; Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon; Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood; The Shop Around the Corner; You’ve Got Mail

Stay Sweet: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“But maybe the only things stopping her were the limits she put on herself.”

Molly Meade began making ice cream with a hand churn ice cream maker in 1944 to cheer up the girls left behind while their loved ones were fighting overseas. From those humble beginnings Molly created Meade Creamery–the local ice cream stand that makes Sand Lake a tourist destination as much as the nearby lake.

The stand is always managed by local girls and known for the easygoing atmosphere and camaraderie between the staff. Amelia and her best friend Cate have worked there together for the past three summers–it’s how they became best friends. When Amelia is chosen to be “Head Girl” and manage the stand, both girls are looking forward to a perfect summer before they start college in the fall.

Except Molly dies before the stand opens for the summer, leaving the stand’s future uncertain. Amelia agrees to stay on to help Molly’s grandnephew figure out how to run the stand and,they hope, find Molly’s secret ice cream recipes. But Grady has big plans to modernize Meade Creamery based on his college business classes that make Amelia wonder if he understands anything about Molly’s legacy.

During a summer where everything is about to change, Amelia will have to figure out how to hold onto the past while forging ahead into an uncertain future in Stay Sweet (2018) by Siobhan Vivian.

This standalone contemporary is an ode to ice cream, the bittersweet nature of changing friendships, and of course to summer itself. Written in close third person the novel follows Amelia from the start of her summer when she finds Molly’s body through a season filled with growth and unexpected changes for both Amelia and the ice cream stand.

While everyone in Amelia’s life is eager to see her move on to college, Amelia is overwhelmed by nostalgia for life in Sand Lake and everything it has represented for her growing up. That love for her hometown and the ice cream stand makes it easy to tie her own summer plans to Grady and Meade Creamery–even at the detriment of her already tenuous friendship with Cate who sees her chance for a perfect last summer with Amelia slipping away.

This character driven novel is partly a contemporary romance but it’s also a love story on a much larger scale as Amelia discovers her passion, the strength of truly solid friendships, and yes a bit of young love too.

Stay Sweet is as sweet as the ice cream served at Meade Creamery. Come for the summery vibe, the romance, and the ice cream; stay for the solid themes of feminism, entrepreneurship, and female friendship.

Possible Pairings: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, No One Here is Lonely by Sarah Everett, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks, Infinite In Between by Carolyn Mackler, Save the Date by Morgan Matson, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, Small Town Hearts by Lillie Vale

You can also check out my interview with Siobhan about this novel!

With the Fire on High: A (WIRoB) Review

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books:

cover art for With the Fire on High by Elizabeth AcevedoEmoni Santiago knows that when people see her name, they get an idea of the person they’re going to meet — the same way people thought they knew the kind of girl she was when she got pregnant her freshman year at Schomburg Charter High School.

She didn’t want to give away information like that for her daughter. Instead, she explains:

“I wanted to give Babygirl a nice name. The kind of name that doesn’t tell you too much before you meet her, the way mine does. Because nobody ever met a white girl named Emoni, and as soon as they see my name on a résumé or college application they think they know exactly what kind of girl they getting.”

But even if people who see her as a teen mother think they know her, Emoni knows they don’t see the full picture. They don’t understand that her top priority since Babygirl was born is to be a good mother.

Even with help from her grandmother, ‘Buela, at home, Emoni has a lot more than college plans on her mind at the start of senior year in Philadelphia. While her best friend, Angelia, is looking at the best graphic-arts programs and enjoying her relationship with her new girlfriend, Emoni is trying to decide if college (or a relationship) can have a place in her future alongside the hopes and dreams she wants to make a reality for Babygirl. And she wonders if it’s time to focus on doing rather than “spending four years pretending to do” in college.

When an opportunity to take an immersive culinary-arts class comes up at school, Emoni knows this is one thing she has to do even if she isn’t sure what to expect — or even if she can afford the class’ trip to Spain alongside the day-to-day costs of helping ‘Buela keep their house afloat.

“If you ask her to tell it, ‘Buela starts with the same story” of Emoni hopping up on a stool and seasoning her first meal at age 4. Emoni doesn’t know what to believe, but “ever since then ‘Buela is convinced I have magical hands when it comes to cooking. And I don’t know if I really have something special, or if her telling me I got something special has brainwashed me into believing it, but I do know I’m happier in the kitchen than anywhere else in the world. It’s the one place I let go and only need to focus on the basics: taste, smell, texture, fusion, beauty.”

Unfortunately, her natural affinity for food and years of experimentation in the kitchen don’t go far when it comes to prepping Emoni for the rigors of the culinary class. Chef Ayden wants to prepare them for work in a restaurant, but Emoni chafes under the structure and restrictions that seem designed to impede her creativity.

Emoni already knows a lot about taking care of herself and the people she loves, but over the course of her senior year, she’ll have to decide if she’s ready to learn even more about cooking, family, and opening her heart in With the Fire on High (2019) by Elizabeth Acevdo.

Find it on Bookshop.

Author Elizabeth Acevedo’s follow-up to her blockbuster verse-novel debut, The Poet X, is another sensational contemporary story. Broken into three parts, With the Fire on High follows the sour, savory, and bittersweet moments as Emoni moves toward graduation and tries to figure out what’s next both for herself and her family.

Emoni’s first-person narration is frank and introspective. She is confident and secure in who she is and the choices she has made, but she also knows that people may have misconceptions about her as a result — something that the novel explores especially well through Emoni’s rivalry and eventual cautious friendship with her classmate “Pretty Leslie Peterson,” about whom Emoni has her own preconceived notions.

Quick, evocative descriptions bring Emoni’s Philadelphia to life as she moves through her neighborhood, where “the sounds of West Allegheny Avenue rush in to greet [her]: cars honking, buses screeching to a stop, rapid Spanglish yelled from the corners as people greet one another, and mothers calling out last-minute instructions to their kids from open windows” and beyond to other parts of the city.

While a romance as sweet as any of her desserts unfolds between Emoni and a new student, the core of this story is the found family and support system that Emoni creates for herself and Babygirl — a family that gets even bigger once she is willing to ask for help when she needs it, because, “like Chef Ayden always says, sometimes you need a team to help you.”

With the Fire on High is a delectable confection filled with optimism, humor, and an obvious affection for each and every character — especially Emoni, a heroine readers will not soon forget.

Possible Pairings: A La Carte by Tanita S. Davis, Unclaimed Baggage by Jen Doll, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno, Your Destination is On the Left by Lauren Spieller, Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian