Lasagna Means I Love You

Lasagna Means I Love You
Age Range
8+
Release Date
February 21, 2023
ISBN
978-1984893871
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What are the essential ingredients that make a family? Eleven-year-old Mo is making up her own recipe in this unforgettable story that's a little sweet, a little sour, and totally delicious.

Nan was all the family Mo ever needed. But suddenly she’s gone, and Mo finds herself in foster care after her uncle decides she’s not worth sticking around for.
     Nan left her a notebook and advised her to get a hobby, like ferret racing or palm reading.
     But how could a hobby fix anything in her newly topsy-turvy life?
Then Mo finds a handmade cookbook filled with someone else’s family recipes. Even though Nan never cooked, Mo can’t tear her eyes away. Not so much from the recipes, but the stories attached to them. Though, when she makes herself a pot of soup, it is every bit as comforting as the recipe notes said.
     Soon Mo finds herself asking everyone she meets for their family recipes. Teaching herself to make them. Collecting the stories behind them. Building a website to share them. And, okay, secretly hoping that a long-lost relative will find her and give her a family recipe all her own.
     But when everything starts to unravel again, Mo realizes that if she wants a family recipe—or a real family—she’s going to have to make it up herself.

Editor review

1 review
Food and Family are a Great Combination
Overall rating
 
4.0
Plot
 
4.0
Characters
 
4.0
Writing Style
 
4.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
 
N/A
When Mo's grandmother, Nan, passes away, there is no one to take care of her. Her father was never in the picture, her mother passed away when she was younger, and her Uncle Billy is in the military and is not willing to give up his career and livelihood to care for her. She thinks briefly about asking her best friend Crystal's family to take her in, but knows this is unlikely. She ends up in the foster care system with a good case manager, Moira, and a seemingly wonderful foster family. June and Tate are young professionals who live in a fancy apartment building with a doorman, Joe. They want the best for Mo but don't understand everything about her, including her desire to travel an hour away to keep attending her old school. They do try, and arrange for a car to take her every day. They also support her efforts to cook; since Nan and Uncle Billy were not great in the kitchen, Mo longs for a family recipe of her own. She starts a web site, and asks strangers for family recipes. She gets a few e mails from her postings, and has a lot of fun making the recipes that are sent to her. Crystal helps her with the photography, and Crystal's grandmother helps Mo make dumplings. What Mo wants most is a family recipe, and a family connection, of her own. When a reporter for the New York Times features Mo in an article, she thinks that she has found a family member, but it turns out not to be. She still hopes that more news coverage will help her find a relative, but has to do something newsworthy in order for the reporter to cover her again. She still misses her gran (the entire book is written as journal entries/letters to her grandmother), and gets along with Tate and June. It's not perfect, but June was also in foster care and is understanding when Mo has moments of sadness and acts out. She even convinces Mo to see Dr. Barb for therapy, even though Nan was against it. She connects more with Joe and his wife Carlotta, who watch her one weekend, and they are instrumental in helping her set up a pop up restaurant of family recipes so that the reporter writes another story. When Tate and June have complications arise, it looks like a distant cousin of her grandmother's is willing to be her guardian, and Mo resigns herself to moving away from New York in order to be with her, even though they don't really connect. Will her pop up restaurant help her find a way to stay in the city she loves?
Good Points
There are a fair number of students in foster care at my school, and I assume it's the same in many other places. It's a fine line to show the problems and the positive aspects of this experience in a realistic way. Having never personally experienced any aspect of foster care, it's interesting to read about. It's good that Mo has an interest, and that her friends and foster parents help her pursue it. The look into the privileged life in New York City that June and Tate provide was rather fascinating. Mo's desire to connect with family members, or to find family recipes, will appeal to readers who like to cook, and social media is fascinating to middle grade readers. There are ups and downs, and Mo has some troubles weathering them, but she has a supportive team.

I find it hard to believe when characters in books find instant online followings or get interviewed by the New York Times, but middle grade readers will not mind either of these things, since they seem to believe that this same thing can happen to them! I did appreciate that there was a good discussion of how much effort Mo has to put into her web site.

This felt a lot like McClain's 2011 Sizzle and a little like Mackler's Not if I Can Help It, due to the New York Setting, and offers a realistic yet upbeat look at foster care along the lines of Farr's Pavi Sharma's Guide to Going Home or Bauer's Raising Lumie. Bypass Byar's classic 1970s The Pinballs, for some of these newer titles unless you, like me, just want to indulge in an After School Special/Kristy McNichol moment! The cover on this one is particularly good and begs to be displayed with Nails' One Hundred Spaghetti Strings.
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