This begins as a sweet, fluffy YA novel about Lainey, a shy, socially awkward teenage girl who wants to become the first African-American vegetarian female celebrity chef, but gains unexpected emotional force as it goes along.

Lainey has been content for years to hang out in the kitchen of her mother’s restaurant, chopping vegetables and bringing in her own recipes for the staff to try, and dreaming about leaving roses at Julia Child’s kitchen in the Smithsonian. But then her long-time friend and secret crush, a popular boy with just enough angst to make him irresistible, starts stirring up messy, uncomfortable feelings in her, and finally gets her to help him run away - a favor that disrupts her life and even her relationship with her mother.

This is one of the more realistic depictions of teenage emotions, relationships, and sometimes terrible decision-making I’ve come across in a YA novel. (But don’t worry, it ends happily.) While the basic story has been told many times, it’s still worth telling and this is a good version of it. Many of you may identify a lot with Lainey’s social difficulties and determination to pursue her own quirky interests - I know I did. Plus, it has a number of tasty-sounding recipes included.

While Lainey is nearly 18, this novel is suitable for preteen readers as well as teenagers: the prose style is fairly simple, and the concerns aren’t ones limited to older teens. It’s definitely the sort of thing I would have enjoyed at nine or ten, and still enjoyed now.

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