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Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet

Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet

4.2 4
by Sherri L. Smith

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Ana Shen has what her social studies teacher calls a “marvelously biracial, multicultural family” but what Ana simply calls a Chinese American father and an African American mother. And on eighth-grade graduation day, that’s a recipe for disaster. Both sets of grandparents are in town to celebrate, and Ana’s best friend has convinced her to


Ana Shen has what her social studies teacher calls a “marvelously biracial, multicultural family” but what Ana simply calls a Chinese American father and an African American mother. And on eighth-grade graduation day, that’s a recipe for disaster. Both sets of grandparents are in town to celebrate, and Ana’s best friend has convinced her to invite Jamie Tabata–the cutest boy in school–for a home-cooked meal. Now Ana and her family have four hours to prepare their favorite dishes for dinner, and Grandma White and Nai Nai can’t agree on anything. Ana is tired of feeling caught between her grandparents and wishes she knew whose side she was supposed to be on. But when they all sit down for their hot, sour, salty, and sweet meal, Ana comes to understand how each of these different flavors, like family, fit perfectly together.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Kathleen Foucart
On the day of Ana's 8th Grade graduation, her family gathers to celebrate, but when a freak plumbing accident cancels the school dance, Ana's best friend steps in to make sure Ana can see her crush one last time before they go to separate high schools—by inviting him and his family to Ana's house for dinner! Ana's grandparents, who do not get along, are thrilled to offer their services to make dinner a success, but can Ana's family survive the dueling recipes? Grandma White, an African-American woman from Louisiana, will make her gumbo, and Nai Nai, Ana's Chinese immigrant grandmother, will make her mango pudding, but catastrophes with different kinds of rice and over-the-top graduation presents leave Ana feeling that the dinner will be a disaster. Through a day filled with food and stories, Ana begins to realize that, even though her family might drive her crazy, they are still her family, and they love her no matter what, all in their own ways. Many readers, especially those just beginning to question their own family's political structures, will be able to relate to Ana and her peace-keeping efforts. Reviewer: Kathleen Foucart
School Library Journal

Gr 5-8- Ana Shen daydreams about how her junior-high graduation day should go: Jamie Tabata will ask her to the dance and will confess that he likes her. However, her dreams don't include a plumbing disaster resulting in the dance being canceled, popular classmate Amanda Conrad flirting with Jamie, or both sets of Ana's grandparents-one Chinese, one African American-cooking together. But that is what she gets when she impulsively invites Jamie and his parents to graduation dinner at her house. Her grandmothers don't get along and the evening could be a disaster. Ana tries to smooth things out as the meal comes together, but it's not easy. Her father reassures her that the differences in her family are like different flavors in Chinese cooking-hot, sour, salty, sweet-that together make something delicious. After dinner with Jamie's stern, judgmental father (and the surprise appearance of Amanda) Ana realizes that her family isn't the only one with problems. Ana is a winning heroine, a real teenager trying to cope with frustrating situations through patience and humor, and sometimes losing both. The supporting characters are strongly drawn, and reminiscences shared by the grandparents shed light on their younger days and add depth to the story. Fans of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's "Alice" books (S & S) or Meg Cabot will enjoy discovering Ana.-Terrie Dorio, Santa Monica Public Library, CA

Kirkus Reviews
Ana Shen looks forward to an evening with her crush, Jamie Tabata. When their eighth-grade graduation dance is canceled, Ana, prompted by her friend Chelsea, invites Jamie to dinner at her house instead. In a tale unfolding over one afternoon and evening, Smith serves up a funny, entertaining gumbo of cultural collisions and discoveries. Ana's Chinese-American dad and African-American mom are a loving couple, but her grandparents exemplify culture clash. Each set tries to outbid the other for Ana's affections, using expensive graduation gifts as currency. The guests arrive, adding to the mayhem: Japanese-American Jamie and his parents; European-American Chelsea and hers; the snobbish blonde Mr. Tabata wants his son to date and her mother. Food makes a perfect context for exploring cultural biases and what it takes to dispel them. An anecdote Ana's African-American grandfather tells about a meal shared with a Chinese soldier in the Korean War is key. "You are what you eat" may be true; "You are what you cook" makes a far more interesting story. (Fiction. 10-14)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
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276 KB
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet

By Sherri L. Smith

Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Copyright © 2008 Sherri L. Smith
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780385734172

Here's how she wants it to go: After the graduation ceremony, when all the speeches are done, Jamie Tabata will walk off the stage with her, take her by the hand and say, "Ana Shen, would you please go to the dance with me tonight?"

Ana, of course, will say yes. She might even blush and squeeze his hand a little. And then she will go home, ignore her family for the next four hours and spend the fifth hour getting dressed (maybe the blue skirt and the pale blue tank top with the ruffles) and taming her hair. When Jamie shows up, they'll walk to the school together, even though it's a long walk. The gym will be lit up like the Fourth of July, with a mirror ball casting starlight and shadows so that even the bleachers look otherworldly. And their first dance will be a slow dance (but not too slow) and he will pull her close and say, "I've liked you since the first day I saw you."

Ana will say, "Me too." And the dance will end, but they will still both be standing there, his arms around her, and he will lean in and give her the most perfect--

"Now, our salutatorian, Ana Shen!" Principal Rubens bellows into the microphone. The mike squeals and Ana jumps out of her reverie.

Great, Ana. Daydreaming right in the middleof your own graduation. She's on her feet before she knows it. Jamie Tabata is making his way back to his seat. Valedictorian, first in their class. He smiles shyly at Ana. She's too embarrassed to smile back. She blushes. Ana's had a big old crush on Jamie since the second grade, and today is the last day of junior high school. She may never see him again after this. And "this" is a perfect chance to make a fool out of herself by flubbing her graduation speech.

She grins a bit too widely at Principal Rubens, an avocado-shaped man in a brown suit with a fringe of hair and beard to match. He holds his hand out to offer her the podium. Ana takes a deep breath and tries to focus.

The sun is out. It is a beautiful June day in Los Angeles. The soft whir of the freeway sounds like the earth breathing, like bees humming in a meadow. The sky is blue, sprinkled with airplanes like distant birds. The stage is set up at one end of the school's sports field, row upon row of plastic folding chairs before her, filled with purple graduation gowns and parents in business suits and Sunday dresses. Her family is somewhere in the crowd--parents, little brother, both sets of grandparents. Come on, Ana, she tells herself. Don't barf. Just do your speech.

She steps up to the mike and clears her throat.

"Good afternoon, soon-to-be graduates of Edison Junior High. My name is Ana Shen."

The crowd rumbles. Ana hesitates, to let the applause die down. It does, but the rumbling does not.
She begins again. "When we first started at Edison . . ." The rumbling is louder, louder than the freeway behind them. Louder than the crowd. She looks uncertainly at Principal Rubens.
"Is that an earthquake?" someone asks.

There is a sudden hush. And then, behind her, the roof of the gymnasium explodes. Or, rather, a geyser of water blows through the roof, shooting into the air like Old Faithful, three stories high. It arcs over the stage with a rainbow dazzle of water and sprays the back half of the sports field like a giant sprinkler. Ana ducks behind the podium as the water shoots overhead. People sitting in the back rows scream. The stream of water loses pressure and falls, like heavy rain, onto the graduates and their families. The purple dye in the gowns starts to run, and the graduates caught in the deluge do a little dance, yanking off their gowns and running past the edge of the falling water.
Oh no, thinks Ana. My hair.

It's not the kind of hair that stands up well to water. Ana clutches her graduation cap to her head. Principal Rubens jumps to his feet, pushing Ana to the side.

"Remain calm, everyone! Remain calm! We appear to have broken a pipe somewhere! Remain calm!"
No one remains calm, however. Teachers go scampering off the stage, and a few chairs are overturned as families plunge through the forming mud, looking for shelter and drier ground. "Head for the far end of the field!" Principal Rubens shouts into the microphone. It squeals again, and the sound works as an alarm. The teachers suddenly remember themselves and organize Ana's classmates into groups that can actually follow orders.

So much for how she wanted it to go. Ana climbs off the wet stage alone, her mortarboard dripping with purple water. Oddly, the rest of her is relatively dry. She doesn't even want to think about what her hair looks like. In the chaos, she spots Chelsea. They grab hands, find a relatively dry spot beneath a jacaranda tree and wait for an official announcement.

"Here." Chelsea offers Ana a dry graduation program.

"Thanks." Ana takes off her cap and shakes her hair out. She dries her face with the program, dissolving the proud letters declaring edison junior high commencement ceremonies.

Not the way Ana planned it at all.

"We should find our families," she says at last.

"Ah, they'll be fine," Chelsea replies. "Besides, look at this mess. They could be anywhere."
It's true. Ana surveys the devastation. It looks like Noah's flood has hit the sports field. Water is running toward the softball diamond, pooling at home plate and third. More of the students are pulling off their gowns. A few of them are laughing. Mostly the boys. The girls look mortified.


Excerpted from Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet by Sherri L. Smith Copyright © 2008 by Sherri L. Smith. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Sherri L. Smith is the author of Lucy the Giant and Sparrow. She lives in Los Angeles, California.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What happens when two women are in the kitchen? Well, in Ana's case, it's her two grandparents trying to save the day and prepare dinner for her 8th grade graduation. But Ana's grandmothers are Chinese and African-American. This is a delightful book about cultural bonding and family traditions told from the point of view of a 13-year-old girl. (I had my 8th grade class read and discuss Smith's book, and it went very well) Well written, funny, and down-to-earth. A must read.
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