Genres: Contemporary fiction
I received a free copy of this book by Netgalley in exchange for an honest opinion.
Natalie Tan hears a bird sing a particular song and suddenly, she knows: her mother has just died. After seven years of estrangement, the pain of her loss comes together with regret for all the years she lost because of pride. Coming back to the neighborhood where she grew up, she finds out that her mother left her the restaurant her grandmother used to own, and Natalie decides to follow on her family footsteps and re-open the restaurant. If she fails, the whole neighborhood will suffer even more, but if she succeeds… it could mean bringing the whole community together and healing old wounds.
I love the idea of this story, so much! Food bringing people together, healing and making a suffering neighborhood prosper again and become vibrant once more. I am partial to a story of food bringing joy and perhaps also a bit of magic into people’s lives, so I think it softened me to this story. But in the end I was disappointed by it.
The writing was choppy, with a lot more telling than showing. For example we learn right away on the first pages that Natalie’s mom has died and while it’s a shock for her, as a reader we don’t have a connection to her, her mother or their relationship. It took many pages for me to start feeling a connection to them and how the death of her mom could have changed everything for Natalie.
I also didn’t really like how much this book was Natalie wanting to cook for her love interest and watching him eat and comparing that to porn. She simply shyly gave him food, barely said a word to him, and spent way too much time overthinking a relationship that didn’t exist. The woman who left a man in the altar on the other side of the globe sounds like an entirely different character.
Despite the themes of grief, gentrification, immigration and so much more, as well as being a magical realism book, this lacked depth for me. I wish the writing had been more flowing, and that the main character had been a little more. I couldn’t help but have some distance from her, the problems she had to solve (which were solved too quickly and neatly, and the magic was all too convenient). I think the writing was a bit too dry for me and in the end, this book didn’t bring the heartbreaking-and-mending experience which it could have been. The plot also was predictable almost scene by scene.
The reason why I still gave it 3 stars is that I LOVED that I got lots of new recipes from this book to try, and it definitely delivered on the “making me hungry and wanting to cook” department, which is why I’d picked up the book in the first place. I think a different kind of reader will enjoy this more, especially if they can relate to the main character more than I did.