His whole life has been mapped out for him… Carlos Portillo has always led a privileged and sheltered life. A dual citizen of Mexico and the United States, he lives in Mexico City with his wealthy family, where he attends an elite international school. Always a rule follower and a parent pleaser, Carlos is more than happy to tread the well-worn path in front of him. He has always loved food and cooking, but his parents see it as just a hobby. When his older brother, Felix—who has dropped out of college to live a life of travel—is tragically killed, Carlos begins hearing his brother's voice, giving him advice and pushing him to rebel against his father's plan for him. Worrying about his mental health but knowing the voice is right, Carlos runs away to the United States and manages to secure a job with his favorite celebrity chef. As he works to improve his skills in the kitchen and pursue his dream, he begins to fall for his boss's daughter—a fact that could end his career before it begins. Finally living for himself, Carlos must decide what's most important to him and where his true path really lies.
North of HappyFeatured
During the Night of the Perfect Taco, tragedy strikes and Felix is killed. And so begins Carlos’s next adventure: managing life without his big brother, and figuring out what to do with the grief that consumes him. Carlos’s grief manifests itself in the form of Felix’s ghost. Felix is everywhere, and he’s always offering advice with his own brand of humor. When Carlos leaves Mexico City to fulfill a dream that he and Felix had—to visit the famous restaurant of Chef Elise St. Croix in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington state—Felix’s ghost follows along and is a constant companion during Carlos’s time there. What started as a plan for one meal and departure from the island extends into a layered story of discovery.
NORTH OF HAPPY is a book about family, love, creative passion, and grief. As in his previous novels, Adi Alsaid writes with a mature and believable contemporary teen voice. Carlos is a sweet and smart character, and his time on Needle Eye Island is equal parts realistically magical and incredibly challenging. Carlos falls for Emma, the daughter of Chef Elise, and Emma helps him get a job as a dishwasher at the restaurant. Given the opportunity to cook the staff meals leads to Carlos catching the interest of Chef Elise, and she begins to train him. I loved the parts of the novel that focused on the restaurant, cooking, and the food, and Carlos’s character was more alive there than in any other scenes. His romance with Emma had the necessary drama and complications, but it still managed to be sweet and somewhat innocent. Felix’s appearances throughout the narrative added humor and insight without being preachy.
NORTH OF HAPPY is a great book. My biggest complaint with it is that there wasn’t an accompanying cookbook because I would really love to try some of the dishes whose ingredients are listed at the opening of each chapter. NORTH OF HAPPY’s look at the grieving process and how that can force a person to think about their own mortality is never heavy handed (despite the presence of a advice-dispensing ghost), and the love story isn’t too overwrought. The pacing is sometimes slow, but that adds to the dream-like tone of some aspects of the story. And the reader can always count on a kitchen scene to spice things up. I highly recommend this book—and Alsaid’s others too. He’s definitely on the short list of authors whose books I will pick up to read without needing any detail beyond the fact that he wrote it.
My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.
A look inside a restaurant kitchen
When Carlos sees a restaurant that was on his brother's to-visit list, he decides to take a flight out and try it himself, with the ghost of Felix accompanying. As he tries the food and meets the hostess, Carlos realizes there is more he needed from this journey and accepts a job washing dishes, pushing his intended short visit into something longer.
This is really a book of recovering from grief, coming-of-age, and discovering who you are. Carlos has a difficult road ahead of him, and Alsaid has captured this beautifully. The tone is coated in the sadness that Carlos has felt, and we feel his pain and self-discoveries through the story. This was not an easy read, but so so worth it.
Please note that I received an ARC from the publisher through a giveaway. All opinions are my own.