A Mexican teen does his best to escape his troubles in the United States.
Carlos Portillo has lived a comfortable life in Mexico City, content to follow the path laid out for him by his parents and to pursue his passion for cooking as a hobby. When Carlos’ older, vagabond brother, Felix, is tragically killed, Carlos flees his family and preplanned life for Washington’s San Juan Islands, where he settles in to a job washing dishes at a restaurant he and his brother worshipped from afar. Before long, Carlos begins training with legendary Chef Elise St Croix and strikes up a romance with the chef’s daughter, Emma, a white girl. As Carlos works through his grief and rediscovers his initiative, the author weaves a sweet love story on the side, but the novel’s primary focus is the balance a passionate person must strike between family and art. Carlos is an intriguing protagonist, observing his brother’s ghost and hearing his voice often but never succumbing to full-blown paranoia or madness. His affection for Emma is endearing, but his character truly sings in the kitchen. The kitchen scenes crackle with energy, painting vivid pictures of delicious food that will make readers’ mouths water. The multiethnic kitchen staff sparkle as well, bouncing off one another with genuine rapport that lends authenticity to the narrative—as does Carlos’ frank address of the myriad microaggressions he experiences.
An exceptional tale of grief, ambition, love, and maturity. (Fiction. 12-16)