Selling chili on the plaza with her mother and sister at night, Lupe wonders why her family is barely getting by: The quality of their food rivals that of any competitor on the square, so why do other stands bring in crowds of customers while her family serves only a steady trickle?
Lupe has a natural entrepreneurial spirit. She learns to notice what people want and to offer it better than the competition. She takes risks and tries new ideas—some work, some flop. When she observes the other chili queens entertaining customers with stories, she does the same and excels. Twirling her exquisite rebozo for dramatic effect, she keeps customers captivated, returning each night for more stories and plates of food. Threaded through the growth of the business and the yarns that Lupe spins is the story of coming of age as a young Mexican-American woman in San Antonio in the 1880s. Lupe and her older sister, Josefa, both dip their toes into the waters of romance and find that love is fraught with consequences. Recipes for traditional Mexican dishes are interspersed throughout the book, as are superfluous replicas of historical documents and photographs—these serve to make the book look like an uncomfortable hybrid of fiction and nonfiction and detract from the story.
Martinello’s storytelling is compelling and will engage particularly voracious readers of historical fiction, but due to the essentially bland subject matter and the unfortunate design, it lacks broad appeal. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 14-17)