Is your family a well-catered, fancy meal? Or is it more like a cafeteria food fight? Finding the kernel of truth about her family’s simmering secrets sets one girl up with a recipe for confusion.
Steffy Sandolini has been living in Greensboro with Auntie Gina and her sister, Nina. However, the return of her wayward father and Auntie Gina’s desire to move in with boyfriend Harry send the Sandolini girls’ lives into a tailspin. Their mother lives at the Place—a long-term care facility—due to traumatic brain injury suffered in an accident. (Save Korean-American Harry, everyone in Steffy’s family is white.) Steffy confronts the turmoil the best way she knows how—cooking. Nails convincingly captures Steffy’s zigzagging thoughts as the 11-year-old struggles to make sense of why her father left or her mother’s new reality. While older sister Nina, 13, is defiant toward their taciturn father, Steffy remains hopeful that all the unsaid things will magically coalesce like gravy, smoothing out the worry and regret. Transitions between chapters, named for and reflecting the various dishes that Steffy makes, are often abrupt, and Steffy’s heartbreaking need for her father’s attention fluctuates between feeling extremely young and perceptively advanced. And the big questions that Steffy confronts are not always answered satisfactorily.
Nails serves up a platter of tender, poignant goodies, but the resolution, or lack thereof, on some key questions raised may be a bit hard to swallow for young readers. (Fiction. 8-12)