The first in a three-part series, this follows four diverse preteen contestants who grapple with their hopes, fears, and dreams as they cook their ways through a reality TV contest.
On arrival day, the contestants meet one another—and their judges—for the very first time. Calm and confident, Oliver is also extremely competitive. Sweet Rae is inspired by her grandma and her multicultural neighbors, and she isn’t afraid to try new flavors. Cooking is in Caroline’s blood—her family owns a French bistro, and her mom is the chef. (She is also the only obviously nonwhite contestant.) Last but not least, Tate is the youngest at 9. He’s a bundle of energy and a little brash, but he has some mean knife skills. During the first round, the contestants take on several challenges, including small warm-ups such as a pantry race to more defining tasks such as creating a vegetable “dessert.” In the beginning, the contestants are cordial to one another and are on par skillwise. However, as elimination day approaches, the pressure mounts and rivalry sets in. Before long, deep-seated emotions are revealed both on and off camera. In the end, this is not just a story about cooking, but also about friendship, discovering one’s strengths, and valuing what matters most—and it’s not always winning. While difficult to track at times, the characters Harper has created are distinct and plausible. Plus she cleverly weaves her amusing storytelling with real cooking techniques for the aspiring young chef.
A fascinating behind-the-scenes peek at a reality cooking show; a must-read for all junior foodies. (Fiction. 8-12)