Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet
Penelope Prado has always dreamed of opening her own pastelería next to her father's restaurant, Nacho's Tacos. But her mom and dad have different plans&;leaving Pen to choose between disappointing her traditional Mexican American parents or following her own path. When she confesses a secret she's been keeping, her world is sent into a tailspin. But then she meets a cute new hire at Nacho's who sees through her hard exterior and asks the questions she's been too afraid to ask herself.
Xander Amaro has been searching for home since he was a little boy. For him, a job at Nacho's is an opportunity for just that&;a chance at a normal life, to settle in at his abuelo's, and to find the father who left him behind. But when both the restaurant and Xander's immigrant status are threatened, he will do whatever it takes to protect his newfound family and himself.
Together, Pen and Xander must navigate first love and discovering where they belong in order to save the place they all call home.
This stunning and poignant novel from debut author Laekan Zea Kemp explores identity, found families and the power of food, all nestled within a courageous and intensely loyal Chicanx community.
Xander is undocumented and lives with his abuelo. He knows his father is somewhere in the United States but hasn't heard from him or seen him since he was little. He really wants to be able to find him, but it is difficult to find someone who does not seem to want to be found. When he is given an opportunity to work at Pen's father's restaurant, he is surprised at how much of a family the workers all are and the unexpected ways in which they serve the community.
As Xander and Pen collide, their worlds are certain to change.
What I loved: Although the romance is powerful and strong (a totally ship-worthy couple), the book really shines for its many critical and potent themes. There is a theme about mental illness that is handled fairly well, particularly in terms of insights into the way it must be culturally ignored but also in the strength of facing it and seeking treatments (in the past). There are also really strong themes about family - both blood and found families, and the importance of those relationships in life and for personal growth.
There are also some deeper themes around the fear and uncertainties with being undocumented. Xander must always keep this in mind, and it's a heavy weight. The book also touches on predatory lending and the inability of law enforcement to adequately protect the people it serves around these issues as well as the ability of the wealthy and powerful to stand above it all.
There is a lot of love in the book that really shines through. There is friend love, family love, romantic love, neighborly love, community love, and so many more threads that connect these characters to the people around them. I definitely fell in love with all of it. Xander and Pen felt so genuine and real, as well as those characters around them - this book really brought this world to life, and I loved every second spent in it.
This was a highly emotional read and gave me all the feels. It's difficult to express all of them here, but I really enjoyed the sorrow, the depth, and the happiness that I experienced throughout. On a lighter note, I also felt pretty hungry, because the food passion also shines through the characters.
Final verdict: A powerful, genuine, and touching read, SOMEWHERE BETWEEN BITTER AND SWEET is a thought-provoking YA contemporary fiction that is positively unputdownable. Highly recommend for fans of TWEET CUTE, STAY SWEET, and NORTH OF HAPPY.