A well-rounded feast for the heart.

On the cusp of adulthood, a 17-year-old girl escapes her abusive home and discovers a refuge in a sleepy Arizona town.

Two weeks have passed since Nana’s funeral. Her absence still feels raw to Lucy Sánchez, a Mexican American girl who has inherited her grandmother’s love for and knowledge of cooking. Home offers little solace. Lucy’s mother is a ghost of her former self; her father, meanwhile, is a violent tyrant. When Lucy’s brother, Mario, arrives home late one day, it sets their dad off in a rage, and Mario runs away from home. It doesn’t take long for Lucy to fall victim to her father’s ire, and she’s soon plotting her own way out. After a brief spell with her aunt, Lucy decides to head to Los Angeles to enroll in culinary training. On the road, however, she spots a help wanted sign on the window of La Cocina, a small-town restaurant. Lucy ultimately finds what she needs there to start over away from the trauma of her past: a community of supportive (mostly Latinx) friends, an opportunity for love—and even a puppy. In this tale of resilience and recovery, Bernal keeps the pacing tight and brisk, mapping out Lucy’s arc from scared adolescent to triumphant yet cautious chef-in-progress. Despite a somewhat abrupt ending, readers will find a story buoyed by likable characters and the author’s compassionate writing.

A well-rounded feast for the heart. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: May 31, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-55885-915-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Piñata Books/Arte Público

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021


A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind.

In this companion novel to 2013’s If He Had Been With Me, three characters tell their sides of the story.

Finn’s narrative starts three days before his death. He explores the progress of his unrequited love for best friend Autumn up until the day he finally expresses his feelings. Finn’s story ends with his tragic death, which leaves his close friends devastated, unmoored, and uncertain how to go on. Jack’s section follows, offering a heartbreaking look at what it’s like to live with grief. Jack works to overcome the anger he feels toward Sylvie, the girlfriend Finn was breaking up with when he died, and Autumn, the girl he was preparing to build his life around (but whom Jack believed wasn’t good enough for Finn). But when Jack sees how Autumn’s grief matches his own, it changes their understanding of one another. Autumn’s chapters trace her life without Finn as readers follow her struggles with mental health and balancing love and loss. Those who have read the earlier book will better connect with and feel for these characters, particularly since they’ll have a more well-rounded impression of Finn. The pain and anger is well written, and the novel highlights the most troublesome aspects of young adulthood: overconfidence sprinkled with heavy insecurities, fear-fueled decisions, bad communication, and brash judgments. Characters are cued white.

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind. (author’s note, content warning) (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781728276229

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2024


An ode to the children of migrants who have been taken away.

A Mexican American boy takes on heavy responsibilities when his family is torn apart.

Mateo’s life is turned upside down the day U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents show up unsuccessfully seeking his Pa at his New York City bodega. The Garcias live in fear until the day both parents are picked up; his Pa is taken to jail and his Ma to a detention center. The adults around Mateo offer support to him and his 7-year-old sister, Sophie, however, he knows he is now responsible for caring for her and the bodega as well as trying to survive junior year—that is, if he wants to fulfill his dream to enter the drama program at the Tisch School of the Arts and become an actor. Mateo’s relationships with his friends Kimmie and Adam (a potential love interest) also suffer repercussions as he keeps his situation a secret. Kimmie is half Korean (her other half is unspecified) and Adam is Italian American; Mateo feels disconnected from them, less American, and with worries they can’t understand. He talks himself out of choosing a safer course of action, a decision that deepens the story. Mateo’s self-awareness and inner monologue at times make him seem older than 16, and, with significant turmoil in the main plot, some side elements feel underdeveloped. Aleman’s narrative joins the ranks of heart-wrenching stories of migrant families who have been separated.

An ode to the children of migrants who have been taken away. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7595-5605-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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