VOYA - Erika Sogge
Anjali Krishnan lives to cook: working at her father's Trinidadian restaurant is not enoughshe spends her spare time experimenting with food and inventing delicious new recipes. Unfortunately, her parents view her passion as just a "hobby" and want her to pursue traditional academics. When Anjali gets a chance to audition for a Food Network show, she must decide whether it is worth following her passion even though it would mean disobeying her parents. The struggle Anjali faces as she tries to decide feels very realistic and will resonate with many young readers. Students who like to cook will gobble up this book. Each chapter concludes with one or more of Anjali's Trinidadian recipes. While some recipes have hard-to-find ingredients, others could easily be made by a young person with minimal adult assistance. Although this book is best suited for budding chefs, it will also appeal to many other students in grades five through nine. Young adults with immigrant parents may identify with Anjali's predicament. In addition, Anjali's internal battle between deference to her parents and independence will feel familiar to many teens, regardless of their ethnicity or interest in cooking. While the main conflict in this book is intriguing, at times it is overly simplified. As they read, some students will feel rushed onto the next event in Anjali's life; others may finish the book with some dissatisfaction. Despite the oversimplification, overall this is a delectable book. Reviewer: Erika Sogge
Children's Literature - Uma Krishnaswami
In food writer Ganeshram's debut novel for young readers, young Anjali Krishnan works in her Trinidadian-American parents' roti shop, Island Spice. Anjali's a foodie through and through. Her Mom and Dad, however, do not attach any credence to her dream of being a celebrity chef. Food may be their livelihood, but they want their daughter to take the entrance test for the "special high school for smart kids ...in downtown Manhattan." Much tiptoeing and skulking around ensues, with amusing results. Anjali finds a reluctant partner in her buddy Linc; and a surrogate "parent" when she needs one in Chef Nyla of the Food Network, sponsor of that celebrity chef show. Sprinkled liberally throughout the book are recipes for fusion food with Caribbean flair ("Deema's Easy Curry Chicken," "Ginger Beer" and a lovely homage to Indian subcontinental roots in the last one, "Prasad.") Recipes for life preface each of the novel's three sections, reflecting Anjali's journey, with a bonus on "Success" at the end. It is all light in tone, and easily digestible but it also conveys an interesting subtext that is still surprisingly rare in culturally grounded books published in the USthe protagonist occupies her cultural spaces with confidence. She is equally at home in the roti shop and walking the three blocks from the Food Network studios to Union Square. It is a refreshing change to see a portrayal of a minority character who is not oppressed and suffering (well, other than from the normal impositions of her family's demands), and in whose story cultural identity is backdrop and context, not plot. Reviewer: Uma Krishnaswami
School Library Journal
Gr 5�7—This brief offering introduces readers to the spicy, colorful island of Trinidad through Anjali Krishnan and her family in New York City. The 13-year-old balances school and helping at her family's roti shop where she is able to try out her culinary inspirations, with many recipes included. She dreams of being the youngest chef on The Food Network, and her grandmother believes she can do it. When Anjali wins a tryout for a teen cooking show, her family is thrilled. However, her dad thinks that her education should come first—the tryout is the same time as her entrance exam for prestigious Stuyvesant High School. Through a deceptive plan, she competes in the tryout. Her father is furious and forbids her to compete any further. Her grandmother wins him over and Anjali competes in the finals. While she does not win, her family comes to support her and her dream. This thin story contains primarily stock characters (devoted but headstrong daughter, sympathetic grandma, distracted mother, restrictive father, complicit friends). The character development is strongest between Anjali and her grandmother; however, the dialect is somewhat stilted. Trinidadian culture plays a large role in the story, but besides the detailed descriptions of food and recipes, little historical and societal information is provided. A marginal purchase.—Lisa Crandall, formerly at Capital Area District Library, Holt, MI
When not at school, taking cooking classes or working in her family's roti shop in Queens, Anjali, 13, dreams of becoming the Food Network's youngest chef.
When she's chosen to audition for Super Chef Kids on the Food Network, she has a chance to make her dream come true, but there's a problem. Her Trinidadian-immigrant parents want Anjali to take the Stuyvesant High School entrance exam, which happens to coincide with the audition. After they insist she drop the audition, Anjali hatches a plan with her best friend, Linc, to go to the audition instead. In her fiction debut, the author reveals a gift for creating compact, vivid character portraits, yet whenever the plot shows signs of taking off, she marches it back to the kitchen. Taking up about 20 percent of the book, the recipes (some appear in Ganeshram's cookbook of Trinidadian cuisine) are intriguing. But while enticing for foodies, most assume considerable culinary know-how. Some ingredients—callaloo leaves, fresh cassava, mixed essence—may be a hard sell for young readers and hard to locate outside cosmopolitan urban centers.
Strong on platform, the result is more fiction-seasoned cookbook than recipe-studded novel, best suited for precocious cooks open to culinary adventure. (recipes, author's note) (Fiction. 10-14)