Salty, Bitter, Sweet by Mayra Cuevas

Expected publication: March 3rd 2020 by Blink

Seventeen-year-old aspiring chef Isabella Fields’ family life has fallen apart after the death of her Cuban abuela and the divorce of her parents. She moves in with her dad and his new wife in France, where Isabella feels like an outsider in her father’s new life, studiously avoiding the awkward, “Why did you cheat on Mom?” conversation.

The upside of Isabella’s world being turned upside down? Her father’s house is located only 30 minutes away from the restaurant of world-famous Chef Pascal Grattard, who runs a prestigious and competitive international kitchen apprenticeship. The prize job at Chef Grattard’s renowned restaurant also represents a transformative opportunity for Isabella, who is desperate to get her life back in order.

But how can Isabella expect to hold it together when she’s at the bottom of her class at the apprenticeship, her new stepmom is pregnant, she misses her abuela dearly, and a mysterious new guy and his albino dog fall into her life?

REVIEW:

Happiness, like love, arrives through the kitchen. At least that’s what my abuela Lala used to say. I may not know much about love, but I definitely got the kitchen part down.

Isabella loves nothing more than cooking. It’s her refuge, her hiding place, when tragedy hits her family. Twice. But things are looking to turn around for better when she’s accepted into the competition for an apprenticeship at one of the most prestigious restaurants in the world, run by international marvel Pascal Grattard, in France. All her focus turns to practice, practice, practice, equally trying to be the best she can be while simultaneously trying to avoid her reality.

But her need to be successful and her desperation for greatness mingled with her grief and heartbreak slowly begin to unravel her new life when the attractive Diego rolls into town on his motorcycle and lays before her a new set of possibilities. Is everything she ever wanted really what she dreamed it would be? Or is she pushing everyone away for the sake of a career that will destroy her?

The interesting things about this novel is that it blends three totally different cultures: France, Spain, and America. It explores the differences between these as the plot unravels, jumping back in time to tell other stories that push forward the main one. The creativity of a Spanish-American girl cooking in France was actually a lot more captivating than I thought it would be. And this is definitely a girl-power novel, though the implication is subtle.

Though I did begin to enjoy it as I read on, it did feel that there was a lot of content that maybe could have been cut a little shorter, just to help the story move a little faster. There are a lot of internal stories of people from Isabella’s past that are all very sweet and heartwarming, but not all of them lend to the overall purpose of the novel. They are there mainly to show that Isabella loved this person more than anyone else and why she has so much grief and self-doubt, but a few of them would have done the trick just fine on their own.

There is some mild language and several references to sex, some of which are more descriptive than others. None go into detail or are any more than vague, but it carries on long enough to know exactly what is meant by the implications. An affair is also a running plot point. My recommendation is for teens over 15, especially those who enjoy a heartwarming romance.

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