Wednesday, April 08, 2009

A la Carte? I'd like Ice Cream, then, with everything.

Now that I've explained myself, we can get down to business. I like A la Carte, and I have something to say about it, so forget the author and our tenuous claim on friendship, I'm going to freakin' have my say. Finally. So there. *harrumph*

Lainey has been (not-so) secretly in love with her (male) best friend Simeon for, well, ever. Sim's always been the one friend Lainey could always be herself with. They've recently grown apart, or, rather, Sim seems to have grown away from her. Now Sim has come back into her life. But is he there for friendship or something else? Is he needing her, or using her? When he disappears, Lainey's not sure she's ready for the answer, so she hides behind lies and what might just be the real love of her life - the kitchen and her budding talent as a chef.

There are books out there for all of us that speak to our individual souls. In these books, often unexpectedly, we find some plot point, characteristic, phrasing, or some quality that hits us, sparking memory or topic or something else that communicates on a deeper level than the simple words on the page belie. For me, in A la Carte, it is Lainey's attachment to a friendship that is no longer healthy for her, that speaks to me. How does one cut ties to a person who once meant so much? How do you override what your heart wants for what your head knows? How do you sever the hopes for a fantasy when reality gives you every indication that it will never happen. Hope is powerful. It is, in my opinion, the most powerful element in our overcoming hardship. If you can believe in your dreams, they can happen. Hope is also what helps delude us and lead us into less than wise situations. For Lainey, it is ultimately about choosing a dream that might be different from the dream she has a habit of dreaming. If we are able to take stock of the reality, severing it from the old hopes, we might just find that what we really want is a little different. We might even discover ourselves in the process. That's what Lainey does in this book. And THAT is why I recommend this book. And why, when I find it on the shelf in my library, I pull it face front. Not because I want to hug the author. Or, well, not just because.

I'm alarmingly prone to psychobabble these days, aren't I? Jeeze. I so apologize.

What I think is remarkable above all else in this book, is that whilst the main characters are largely minorities, they just happen to be black. The race is interchangeable. She's dealing with the everyday issues and heartache of growing up - something not contingent upon race. Perhaps I am naive (I'd believe it), or, at best, simply unaware of many teen titles that *don't* deal with some sort of race issue when the main character is anything other than white, but I think it's noteworthy and wonderful. Because, you know what? There are teen readers of color, and something tells me they'd like to occasionally read about someone who looks like them AND just has a normal, middle-class, financially stable, stereotype-free life. (On that topic, if you haven't already read the SLJ article by Mitali Perkins, you should. Right now. It's more important, and better written, than this review. No offense, my dear Tanita.). All of this said, I'm a white girl who really doesn't know what I'm talking about.*

And, speaking of surface topics, I think that, while the cover of A la Carte is an unusual choice of art for a teen book, it is beautiful. Frame-and-put-on-my-wall beautiful. Not sure how compelling it is to teens, though. The beauty is continued throughout the book, with the caring details in the recipes sprinkled within. They appear on battered recipe cards, and it's a fantastic choice. All art direction does successfully convey how hungry you'll get reading the book. And, speaking of food, while Lainey is concerned about healthy food and reducing calories and fat in the food she makes, she has a healthy relationship with food and eating. With so many books portraying teens with eating disorders, this pleasant to read.

I am SO looking forward to her WWII novel, Mare's War, out in June. The day before my birthday. *nods* I'm also going to try and leverage my relationship with this author for an interview. What do you think T?

* Ok, this was going to be a long comment about race in my library, but it's turned into a post of itself. Come back later (tomorrow?) for the thoughts.


kristyjojo said...

I've been curious about this book, happening upon it in book stores and running across various reviews, and honestly the cover art turned me off. I do plan to pick this one up though after reading your thoughts. My students need more books like this one. Thanks Jackie!
- ]{risty

tanita✿davis said...

I'm thinking you *could* interview me, but that's such a minor request -- most people who try to leverage their relationship with me require cookies out of the deal!

Lorie Ann Grover said...

I, too, loved the recipes, the characters, and the portrayal of a wonderfully stable African American family!

Thanks, Tanita, for the work and, Jackie, for the review!