Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet

Little, Brown. Apr. 2021. 352p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316460279.
Gr 9 Up–In Austin, TX, Pen Prado’s Mexican American family runs Nacho’s Tacos, a popular place to eat and gather and the community hub that neighborhood residents turn to in times of need. Pen’s father, Ignacio, can always be counted on for a meal when someone is hungry, quick money for a small job, or steady employment for people with undocumented statuses. Pen has a passion for cooking and dreams of running the restaurant when her father retires, but her parents insist Pen finish nursing school. When they find out that she has been skipping classes, they fire her from the restaurant and let her know that she may continue to live at home only if she finishes school. Xander lives with his abuelo and lives in fear of his undocumented status being revealed. He has worked with immigration lawyers and private detectives in hopes of finding his father, but so far doesn’t even know if he’s alive. When Xander, who is from Mexico, takes a job at Nacho’s Tacos, he finds a place to belong and a family as his relationship with Pen progresses, but those things are threatened by J.P., or El Martillo, a loan shark who has corrupt members of law enforcement on his payroll. In this coming-of-age story told in multiple perspectives, Pen struggles to deal with familial expectations while chasing her dreams of cooking, the heady emotions of first love, and mental health issues stemming from anxiety and depression. Secondary characters are well developed and the plot is a balance of tension, humor, romance, and fear. Lush imagery celebrates Mexican culture and depicts how food can bring people together.
VERDICT This #OwnVoices YA contemporary debut is not to be missed; recommended for most collections.

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