Dear Julia

Dear Julia

4.0 2
by Amy Bronwen Zemser

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Elaine Hamilton has never wanted to be the center of attention. She'd like nothing more than to cook quietly in her kitchen, mastering French cooking with the recipes of the great Julia Child.

So how did she end up with cameras zooming in on her and a crowd cheering her on?

Well, it involves . . .

an eccentric best friend named after a font,

  • five

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Elaine Hamilton has never wanted to be the center of attention. She'd like nothing more than to cook quietly in her kitchen, mastering French cooking with the recipes of the great Julia Child.

So how did she end up with cameras zooming in on her and a crowd cheering her on?

Well, it involves . . .

an eccentric best friend named after a font,

  • five lively brothers constantly asking, “What's for dinner?”
  • a rotten fig and a weakness,
  • a feminist congresswoman mother,
  • a yoga-practicing father,
  • a chest full of unsent letters,
  • and many, many roast ducks.

Delicious. Just delicious.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Two misfits form an important friendship in Zemser's (Beyond the Mango Tree) hilarious-and surprisingly moving-novel. Elaine Hamilton prepares gourmet French meals for her family nightly, writes letters to Julia Child (but does not mail them) and dreams of the Cordon Bleu; Lucida Sans, who named herself after the typeface, occupies herself with "getting attention-and lots of it," as she wishes chiefly to be famous. After they meet (when Lucida accidentally triggers a fire at a town festival), Lucida quickly convinces Elaine to join her schemes, such as punking her rival (and sometimes boyfriend) into performing for a fake audition. Finally noticing Elaine's chef skills, she gets her shy friend to tape a cooking show. Zemser knows how to write kooky: Lucida constantly dresses in costume and her narcissistic sometimes boyfriend writes terrible plays: "Some of them don't even have characters," carps Lucida; over-the-top scenes include a last-minute appearance by Julia Child, who whispers a secret tip in Elaine's ear. Readers will laugh throughout, but Zemser never loses sight of Elaine's frailties and hopes. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)

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KLIATT - Ashleigh Larsen
High school student Elaine Hamilton is too shy to make friends. Instead, she pours her life into her passion for cooking complex dishes in her kitchen and mastering the recipes of French cuisine by the great Julia Child. But when a fellow student, Lucida Sans, enters her life, Elaine must learn what it means to care about someone else. Thanks to Lucida, she is forced to turn from her cowardly habit of hiding in her kitchen and wholeheartedly pursue her dream of becoming a chef—which involves cameras, lights, sabotage, and a cable-access cooking competition. Will Elaine find her voice and be on her way to becoming the next Julia? Or will she cave under the pressure to make the competition's best omelet—the only French dish that she has never been able to master? Witty dialog and hilariously daring situations frequent Zemser's quirky novel. While a cross-dressing sibling and Lucida's two mothers might be controversial to some, they play key roles in helping the two high school girls identify who they are amid the disaster of high school drama. Many YAs can also relate to the challenge of turning their dreams into reality. Reviewer: Ashleigh Larsen
Children's Literature - Kristy Lyn Sutorius
Filets de Poisson Gratines, a la Parisienne, Roti de Boeuf Poele a la Matignon, and Thon en Chartreuse were just a few of the French dishes that Elaine Hamilton perfected by age 16. Although she knew her way around the kitchen like a pro, Elaine hadn't given a thought to mastering the art of friendship. Enter Lucida Sans. Lucida drags Elaine from the comfort of her kitchen, practically kicking and screaming, and forces her to take some chances. Together they record a tape of a cooking show for a WKTV competition. Things go south when Lucida's "rotten fig" of an ex, Croton, gets in their way. The two are suddenly powerless to stop him from destroying the tape along with their dreams and the friendship sadly unravels. Elaine's brother convinces her to sign up for a French cooking contest that will be televised—first prize: an audition for a show on network TV and a scholarship to a culinary school in Paris! With the help of Julia Child herself, Elaine is able to face her camera fears and the dreaded omelette, "the abiding bane of [her] career." The story is set in the age of videotapes, record players and Julia Child, an individual unknown to this generation, but introduced enough to spark curiosity. Zemser's created a tender story about having dreams of your own and making them come true. Highly recommended. Reviewer: Kristy Lyn Sutorius
VOYA - Molly Krichten
Aspiring chef Elaine Hamilton is content keeping company with pots and pans, butter, eggs, and sugar. She idolizes Julia Child and studies Childs's work as she hones her French cooking skills in her parents' kitchen, amid the unavoidable chaos of five brothers. Elaine meets aspiring celebrity Lucida Sans (renamed after the font) who devises a way to combine her own desire to be famous with Elaine's passion and talent for French cooking. The girls seem to be on their way to making their dreams come true, until an attractive classmate threatens not only to prevent them from getting their big break, but also to tear the girls' friendship apart. Zemser pulls together an interesting cast of characters in this novel. Lucida Sans is a vibrant person with two moms. Elaine's mother is a high-powered politician and feminist, her father is a stay-at-home dad and yoga instructor, and her brother, Chris, is a crossdresser who comes across as a caricature and not authentic. Elaine's speech is awkwardly but inconsistently formal, and the refrain of the antagonist as "a rotten fig" and "a flower gone to seed" is tiresome. The author runs into a few problems using real world elements inaccurately, such as Elaine's mother's purported 1976 involvement in Take Back the Night, two years before the actual events. Using Julia Child as a character when in fact she has been deceased since 2004 might confuse the reader. Child's characterization is also questionable. Flaws aside, this novel, with its colorful cover and surefire shelf appeal, will be well received by those with a passion for cooking, or with atypical career aspirations. Reviewer: Molly Krichten
School Library Journal

Gr 7-10

With Julia Child as a role model and a set of the woman's cookbooks on her shelves, Elaine Hamilton has been mastering the art of French cooking since she was eight. Now 16, she seems happy slaving over a hot stove but lacks a social life. Equally friendless Lucida Sans wants to be famous, but her strange name, outrageous costumes, and crazy plans put her in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. A chance meeting between the two develops into a tentative friendship as the girls plot revenge on Lucida's ex-boyfriend. With the help of her quirky family and new friend, Elaine must convince herself that she has what it takes to be a master chef and convince her congresswoman mother that a career in the kitchen won't derail decades of women's liberation. The girls come across as younger than their years, even as they drive and date, but this can be partially explained by their lack of social experience. More frustrating is the deus ex machina appearance of Julia Child, who magically solves Elaine's problems at the crucial moment. Elaine's chaotic family and Lucida's two mothers provide amusement and a solid, if somewhat stereotyped, supporting cast in this lighthearted read.-Cara von Wrangel Kinsey, New York Public Library

Kirkus Reviews
This unconventional coming-of-age story is set largely in the kitchen and peopled by an irresistible cast of eccentric characters. Elaine, whose dream is to attend Le Cordon Bleu Paris, and the self-styled Lucida Sans, whose dream is to be famous (for being famous), are thrown together in a vexing relationship of attraction and avoidance. Shy Elaine, whose hero is Julia Child, denies her own dream because her mother, a feminist congresswoman, scorns culinary skill that does not further the cause of gender equality. Irrepressibly extroverted Lucida struggles against her own weakness for a narcissistic but beautiful boy who uses her to further his own ambitions. In an uproarious culminating triumph and requital, both girls unite to win the Young Chef American Culinary Competition and, in so doing, discover their individual strengths. While readers may not understand all the French cooking terminology, it raises the book's authenticity and comedy to the next level. Originality and a richly layered extravagance of detail in incident, character, setting and haute cuisine make this a memorable and mirthful confection. Bon appetit! (Fiction. 12-16)

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)
780L (what's this?)
Age Range:
13 - 16 Years

Read an Excerpt

Dear Julia

Chapter One

When Elaine Hamilton was six years old, she told her mother she wanted to be a cook when she grew up. At the time, her mother was trying to pass legislation toward equal pay for women. Elaine never forgot her mother's words.

"Oh, Elaine," she had said, hurriedly stuffing papers into her briefcase. "Can't you aspire to something higher? Twenty years since liberation and you want to stay home and slave over a burner?"

Elaine went into her bedroom, took out a sheet of paper and a pencil, and wrote a letter to her favorite person in the entire world: Julia Child.

Dear Julia,

When I grow up I want to be a cook like you. Yesterday I made a sauce hollondaze from your ree ressup cookbook but I couldn't find a wisp of steam like you said and I think the yolks got to hot. The sauce sepuraded and I was going to throw it out but Dad said Elaine this is delishus. He pored it on his brockli.

Love always,
Elaine Hamilton

Julia Child probably would have responded to this letter if Elaine had put it in the mail. But this was the funny thing: Elaine was much too shy a child to actually send this letter, or any of the letters she had written over the years to her favorite person in the entire world. Instead she locked them inside an old wooden chest with brass handles at the foot of her bed, and she never spoke again of her dream to become a cook. But from the time she was six years old, she always got up before her parents and three younger brothers to fix breakfasts and school lunches, and by the end of the second grade, she was preparing French-inspireddinners. On her eighth birthday, Elaine's father bought her a box set that contained the titles Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One and Volume Two, and by the time Elaine was in the third grade, she was preparing meals with wonderful names like Poulet Poché au Vin Blanc and Caneton Rôti à l'alsacienne for the entire family.

Elaine's brothers hardly noticed the meals, as they were often fighting about candy bars or getting the bus on time or who hit who first, and her mother was too busy consensus-building with colleagues to notice. But Elaine's father, who stayed at home, raised the children, and practiced vinyasa yoga in the basement, always took his meals with great relish.

"Delicious, Elaine," he said, when Elaine was in first grade and made an onion tart with anchovies and black olives. "Just delicious."

"So tasty," Mr. Hamilton said, when she made a Soufflé Vendôme, a soufflé with poached eggs, in second.

"Marvelous," her father said, closing his eyes and spooning up a mouthful of Crème Pâtissière. "Simply marvelous."

As Elaine grew older she made a study of Julia Child's cookbooks, and her repertoire expanded to include dishes that required many steps, such as Filet de Boeuf Rôti, Sauce périgueux, or Thon en chartreuse (tranches de poisson en chartreuse). And as the years went by, Elaine continued to write letters to Julia Child, although as she grew older her questions became more nuanced. In the sixth grade, Elaine wrote:

. . . regarding the larding and marinating of the beef, the lardoir I have chosen is eleven inches long and has a hinged point that I understand serves as a handle. While you have suggested buying the needle with the longest blade, I tend to find the shorter blade with the removable handle far more preferable. Will there be a problem with the snugness of fit in a handle a few inches shorter than your ideal? Additionally, while I of course larded my roast in the direction of the grain, I did not necessarily hold fast with a counterclockwise rotating pattern and was wondering if you . . .

Of course Julia Child never responded to any of these letters because Elaine sealed and stamped them, and put them on top of the now hundreds of other letters she had sealed and stamped and locked away in her wooden chest with the brass handles. So it went this way for years and more years, with Elaine cooking more and more amazing dishes for what grew to be five brothers (when Elaine was ten, her mother had twins), and for her mother, who barely paid attention because she was concerned about her constituency, and for her father, who would close his eyes, fork up another bite of pâté de campagne, and say, "Delicious, Elaine. Just delicious."

By the time Elaine turned sixteen, she had memorized nearly every recipe and mastered every technique that Julia Child knew, and she had secretly decided to apply to Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, which Julia Child had attended in the 1930s. After college, Elaine would fly to Paris to earn a cooking degree at the Cordon Bleu (which Julia Child had also attended), and after that she had plans, like Mrs. Child herself, to become a great cook and teacher. She did not tell anyone of these dreams, of course, particularly her mother, who expected Elaine to go to Dartmouth (which she herself had attended in the 1970s).

Elaine was a shy child who grew up to be an even shyer teenager, with large glasses and a ponytail that caused wispy fringes of hair to gather around her face. She wore a retainer to school. Her blouses were too loose, her slacks too tight, and her jeans cut too high at the waist. She had a tendency to use big words and complicated syntax, particularly when she was nervous. Although she was a naturally gifted student and her grades were excellent, she had no friends, as she spent all of her time clarifying beef broth, kneading dough, or teaching her twin brothers how to make a proper ragout. She was a wonderful teacher, patient and kind, if perhaps a little stiff. But she was only sixteen.

Dear Julia. Copyright � by Amy Zemser. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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