Today’s my stop on the blog tour for Mayra Cuevas’s newest contemporary, YA romance, Salty, Bitter, Sweet! Keep reading for my thoughts on this new #OwnVoices story.
Note: this review was originally posted March 5, 2020 on curlybookowl.com.
Aspiring chef Isa’s family life has fallen apart after the death of her Cuban abuela and the divorce of her parents. She moves in with her dad and her new stepmom, Margo, in Lyon, France, where Isa feels like an outsider in her father’s new life. Isa balances her time between avoiding the awkward, “why-did-you-cheat-on-Mom” conversation with figuring out how a perpetually single woman can at least be a perpetually single chef.
The upside of Isa’s world being turned upside-down?
Her father’s house is located only 30 minutes away from the restaurant of world-famous Chef Pascal Grattard, who runs a prestigiously competitive international kitchen apprenticeship. The prize job at Chef Grattard’s renowned restaurant also represents a transformative opportunity for Isa who is desperate to get her life back in order—and desperate to prove she has what it takes to work in an haute kitchen. But Isa’s stress and repressed grief begin to unravel when the attractive, enigmatic Diego shows up unannounced with his albino dog.
How can Isa expect to hold it together when she’s at the bottom of her class at the apprenticeship, her new stepmom is pregnant, she misses her abuela dearly, and things with the mysterious Diego reach a boiling point?
Like its title, Salty, Bitter, Sweet is indeed salty, bitter, and sweet. This is not the kind of story that pulls you in right from the get-go, nor is Isa a particularly sympathetic main character, but there’s still something special about the book that made me want to see it through.
I was eager to begin the book as I tend to feel an immediate fondness for stories about mixed-race main characters. I, too, grew up mixed-race—never Chinese enough, but never quite White enough either—so I felt an instant connection to Isa. (That being said, I’ve always been white passing so I’m definitely not trying to say that our experiences were the same.)
Initially, I felt frustrated by Isa’s character; she was too, in my opinion, unrealistically single-minded when it came to cooking. As I read and learned more of Isa’s story, however, I realized that perhaps her single-minded obsession is realistic given the grief she’s experiencing and the other-ness she feels in her own home—cooking is her escape and her pursuit of perfection gives her something to channel all of her energy into. It’s also how she maintains her connection with her Lala—her grandma.
The story felt too busy and I think it would have benefited from less plot lines. Isa’s apprenticeship, Diego, and the loss of her Lala would’ve been enough; add to that the new family structure, the tenuous relationship with her stepmother, and the dynamic with her Mamie and mom and it became too much. No one story line was given enough room to fully develop or come to fruition.
Overall, I appreciate what Cuervas was trying to accomplish with this story and I do think that some folks will enjoy it, I just think it wasn’t for me.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This has not impacted or influenced my review or opinions.