Melendez, Jarrett, and Danica Brine, illustrator. Chef’s Kiss. Oni-Lion Forge Publishing Group, 2022. 978-1-620-10904-5. 160 p. $14.99. Grades 10+.
Ben Cook is a recent college graduate who longs for a job connected to his English major. He goes on over a dozen interviews, but lacks the experience needed to land a job that will allow him to gain experience. Luckily, a local restaurant is hiring, with NO experience required (plus a very dreamy sous chef, Liam). Now Ben must excel at Chef Davis’s series of challenges, mastering recipes both classic and original. He also has to please Watson, Le Cochon Doré’s official taste-tester; Watson is a pig, an adorably affectionate one. “Cook the cook” really takes to the restaurant gig, especially the camaraderie that’s forged in the kitchen, but his roommate and longtime bestie, Liz, feels that Ben has given up on writing too easily. This upbeat graphic novel (with abundant character diversity) joyfully depicts the life-changing moments that happen when your life’s prescribed path opens up to a world of possibilities.
THOUGHTS: With incredible culinary sequences, a slow burn romance, and a dash of early-twenties angst, it’s just, yes, chef’s kiss.
Graphic Novel (Crossover) Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD
Sutanto, Jesse Q. Dial A for Aunties. Berkley, 2021. 978-0-593-33303-7. 309 p. $16.00. Grades 10+.
When mid-20s Meddelin “Meddie” Chan reluctantly agrees to go on a blind date arranged by her mother, she figures: what’s the worst that could happen? Well, she deploys her Taser to deter his overly aggressive advances, leading to a car accident and his (very unintentional!) death. Unsure of what to do next, she stuffs him in the trunk and turns to her mother and three aunties for help. The Chans sisters, who run a wedding business, have a huge event lined up the next day (at the hotel owned by Meddie’s freshly deceased date, one of many complications). The body goes into a jumbo cooler, the cooler goes aboard a ferry to the island wedding venue, and a comedy of errors – and a couple of crimes – ensues. The real hotel owner turns out to be Nathan, Meddie’s college boyfriend and true love, which raises the question: Who is in the cooler? Dial A for Aunties is packed with near-misses and comedic twists that will have readers alternately gasping with surprise and laughing out loud. Jesse Q. Sutanto depicts Meddie and Nathan’s sweet love story in a series of flashback chapters, adding appeal for teen readers. The Chan women stick together, despite a few sisterly squabbles, adding depth to a somewhat improbable storyline. Indonesian-Chinese wedding customs are incorporated as Meddie photographs the bridal preparations, tea ceremony, and other traditions throughout the highly eventful day.
THOUGHTS: With vibes of both Crazy Rich Asians and Weekend at Bernies, this big-hearted romantic comedy will leave readers anxious for the as-yet-untitled sequel.
Bennett, Brit. The Vanishing Half. Riverhead Books. 2020. 978-0-525-53629-1. 343 pp. $27.00. Gr. 10+.
In 1954, the morning after Founders Day, the 16-year old Vignes twins disappeared from their tiny town of Mallard, Louisiana. Desiree and Stella made their way to New Orleans, where their lives took two very different directions and identities. Stella began “passing” as white, and Desiree continued living as a black woman. Now, fourteen years later, Desiree has returned to Mallard with a young daughter in tow. Jude’s dark complexion makes waves in Mallard, a town founded on the principle of prizing each generation’s lighter and lighter skin tones. No one has seen or heard from Stella in almost as many years. The narrative shifts between 1968, when Desiree and Jude arrive in Mallard, and 1978, when Jude herself leaves to attend UCLA. There she falls in love with a trans man named Reese. Brit Bennett expertly depicts each time period and setting, weaving in real-world events such the integration of wealthy suburban neighborhoods, the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the early days of the AIDS crisis. She realistically embeds each woman’s story within the timeline, gradually turning up the tension in one plot strand before focusing on another, equally well-crafted, character arc. No jaw-dropping plot twists are required in a historical novel this good, with storylines that converge, draw apart, and come together again with heartbreaking realism.
THOUGHTS: Crisp, unpretentious writing, vivid settings, and characters who genuinely feel real make for one of the best reads of 2020.