Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Laekan Zea Kemp's Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet is a romantic coming-of-age story set in a Latino community in Austin, Texas. The two main characters, Penelope (Pen) and Xander, meet at Pen's dad's restaurant, and Pen's dream of opening a bakery and delicious descriptions of food are big parts of the story. The two characters narrate different chapters, not always alternating. There's lots of positive Latino representation and role models. Strong themes include community, family, and belonging. There's lots of strong language ("s--t," "f--k," "p---sies," "d--k") and some excessive alcohol use by teens and young adults. Teens and young adults play drinking games and drink to excess at parties with no consequences other than hangovers and being late to work. One party mentions shots and tokes. One of the narrators takes medication for depression. There's some kissing and light making out with brief descriptions mentioning tongue. A couple kiss and start to undress on a bed and are interrupted. Violence includes a gunshot, danger from being burned in a fire, mentions that both narrators engaged in self-harm in the past. There are a few fights with punches. One mentions the taste of blood. The villain smokes cigarettes and uses intimidation and extortion. Pipe and cigar smoking are mentioned briefly. Narrator Xander may inspire empathy for undocumented residents. One character was abandoned by his parents.
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What's the Story?
In SOMEWHERE BETWEEN BITTER AND SWEET, Penelope (Pen) has loved cooking with her dad for as long as she can remember. And now that she's out of high school she's the manager in all but name of her father's restaurant. She loves it, but she also dreams of opening her own bakery someday. But her parents' dream is for her brother to take over the restaurant, and for Pen to follow in her mother's footsteps by going to nursing school. When Pen confesses that she hasn't been attending classes all semester, her parents fire her from the restaurant and offer her the choice of going to school or moving out of their home. Pen's last day at the restaurant is Xander's first, and even though they only cross paths briefly that day, each can see through the other's defenses and brave fronts. They start falling for each other, and as they try to figure all that out, they'll also each face difficult and scary decisions about how to grow up and move forward in life, instead of spending it looking back.
Is It Any Good?
Author Laekan Zea Kemp's YA debut is a vivid, funny, mouthwatering, sometimes heartbreaking, and indeed bittersweet romantic coming-of age novel. Colorful characters, a lively sense of community, and a realistic sense of place are all strong points in Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet, but Kemp's writing really shines when she's describing food, both sweet and savory. The two narrators are well developed, and switching between them helps readers understand both what's going on in their minds and how they come across to other people. Often one of them narrates several chapters in a row, so it can be occasionally be confusing if you forget to pay attention to the name in the chapter heading.
Both characters inspire empathy, too: Pen for coping with depression, and Xander for what it's like to grow up in fear and with no sense of belonging because he's undocumented. There are lots of positive representations in the closely knit Latino community in Austin, Texas. Teens will relate to Pen and Xander as they learn to make hard, scary decisions about their own lives. And they'll learn a lot about the value of community, compassion, family, and belonging.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the strong language in Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet. How much is too much? Is it realistic? If so, does that make it OK?
Are Pen and Xander positive role models? What are their character strengths and weaknesses? Do you have a favorite character?
What about the excessive alcohol use? Is it realistic, or is it glorified in any way? Are the consequences, or lack of them, realistic?
- Author: Laekan Zea Kemp
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Cooking and Baking, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Little Brown and Company
- Publication date: April 6, 2021
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
- Number of pages: 352
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: May 11, 2021
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