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The Secret Ingredient

The Secret Ingredient

4.5 4
by Stewart Lewis

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   Sixteen-year-old Olivia loves living in Silverlake, Los Angeles, with her dads, Bell and Enrique, and her brother, Jeremy. But when Olivia discovers that Bell's restaurant, FOOD, is in trouble, she applies for a job at a casting agency. The day of her interview, Olivia meets a psychic in an elevator who tells her that this summer will be pivotal.


   Sixteen-year-old Olivia loves living in Silverlake, Los Angeles, with her dads, Bell and Enrique, and her brother, Jeremy. But when Olivia discovers that Bell's restaurant, FOOD, is in trouble, she applies for a job at a casting agency. The day of her interview, Olivia meets a psychic in an elevator who tells her that this summer will be pivotal. Soon after, Olivia stumbles upon a vintage cookbook with handwritten notes in the margins and starts to date a gorgeous boy named Theo. As Olivia reads the notes in the cookbook and cooks the recipes, she forms a kinship with the previous owner and becomes increasingly aware of the emptiness she feels without a mother. When Olivia discovers her birthmother's name and address, there's nothing to stop Olivia from meeting her. But sometimes the things we search for are the things we've always known.

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—Sixteen-year-old Olivia lives in a funky neighborhood in Los Angeles; has an older brother who is trying to make it as a musician; a British best friend, Lola; and two Dads. Bell is the affectionate, openhearted, restaurant-owning father and Enrique is a caring former ballet dancer, currently a stylist. Olivia is an aspiring chef who creates weekly specials at Bell's troubled restaurant, using food to comfort others and express her emotions. A chance elevator encounter with a psychic sets the stage for a pivotal summer. Her job with a talent agent leads to a reignited romance with a boy from her past, and her purchase of a vintage cookbook opens her up to new experiences. Although her upbringing has been full of love, Olivia feels the absence of a mother. With Lola's help she finds her mother's name and meets her. This reunion allows Olivia to recognize that she already has all that she needs. The portrayal of a loving and supportive unconventional family is well done. Despite its convenient resolution, the subplot involving Bell's restaurant illustrates how families pull together in tough times. Olivia is a sympathetic protagonist and her struggles to find her place will resonate with many readers. Enjoyable chick lit that is likely to be popular.—Kefira Phillipe, Nichols Middle School, Evanston, IL
Publishers Weekly
Lewis (You Have Seven Messages) offers a thoughtful story about food and family, set in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Silver Lake. Sixteen-year-old Olivia and her older brother, Jeremy, are doing everything in their power to help with their adoptive fathers’ finances, struggling restaurant, and faltering marriage. Olivia gets a job at a casting agency despite her disinterest in Hollywood (her dream is to attend Le Cordon Bleu in Paris), and Jeremy rents an ice cream truck, but their efforts only bring more turmoil. Olivia’s chance meeting with a psychic and discovery of a vintage cookbook spark both an imaginary dialogue with a housewife from the 1960s and a true one with herself. Olivia’s passions feel real throughout the book, from her crush on a boy that got away to her cooking (readers who share her culinary interests will come away with quite a few ideas) and her search for answers about the mother she never met. Teens seeking direction and control in their own lives will gladly accompany Olivia as she works to put hers in order. Ages 12–up. Agent: Mitchell Waters, Curtis Brown. (June)
Children's Literature - Bonita Herold
Sixteen-year-old Olivia is worried. Laughter usually reins in her house. Her family has always found the humor in things—partly because her parents, a gay couple, had to bend over backward to work through the unique situation of raising children in a community of straight couples. Olivia's brother has moved out, so she's left to feel the brunt of the family's troubles. Sadness seems to permeate the house and the family's restaurant. The house is in jeopardy. Even worse, the restaurant may fold. When her talented, but sometimes thoughtless, brother decides to help by buying an ice cream truck, his contribution worsens the situation. While it's difficult for Olivia to know how to help when no one tells her anything, she gets a job as a receptionist at a casting agency. That same day, she meets a fortuneteller who reveals things about Olivia that she can't possibly know in the usual sense: the fact that food is very important to her and that she lacks a mother but has a brother full of fire. Will the fortuneteller also be correct about a young man coming into Olivia's life? When Olivia stumbles upon a vintage cookbook filled with interesting personal notes, she forms a kinship with its author and decides that anything is possible. A touching tale of first love and discovering who we really are, The Secret Ingredient will appeal to teenage girls as well as the inner girl within the older female reader. Reviewer: Bonita Herold
VOYA - Erin Wyatt
An unexpected encounter with a psychic portends a significant summer in the life of Olivia, a gifted chef with growing curiosity about her birth mother. Cooking is central to the story with savory descriptions of the many meals Olivia prepares for her family and friends and for her weekly special at FOOD, the family restaurant in Los Angeles. A found cookbook with notes from the previous owner offers more culinary inspiration and introspection as Olivia connects with the imagined and actual voices from the past. While the family finances are on the rocks, much like the relationship of her dads, Olivia and her brother try to contribute. This breezy read explores issues of identity, embracing passions, and finding ones way in the world. There is a magical feel to the book due to all the interconnectedness and chance encounters that help move the plot along, driven by the presence and predictions of the psychic. The cast of characters is well drawn, even with many quirky characters with brief appearances. Although sometimes Olivia expresses her inner thoughts in the narration and in conversation in a way that does not necessarily ring true to teenage speech, the sentiments are sincere and serve to provide insight into the way this teen is thinking about the world and her role in it. The idea of a secret ingredient in a recipe helps to tie the parts of the novel together, particularly the larger quest for identity of the main character. Reviewer: Erin Wyatt
Kirkus Reviews
Some solid cooking tips shared by the main character, an aspiring chef, are an added bonus to this slick, enjoyable novel that juggles a variety of mostly successful plotlines. Olivia and her ne'er-do-well singer/songwriter older brother Jeremy adore their two dads, Enrique and Bell, even if they seem to be unraveling a bit in the face of bills that are piling up both on their home mortgage and Bell's restaurant. Early on, Olivia stumbles into a chance meeting with a psychic that foreshadows many of the novel's events, including a romance and her first sexual experience, her decision to pursue the identity of her birth mother and the discovery of an annotated cookbook from the 1960s whose former owner captivates her. Food metaphors are occasionally overdone--"Without every flavor of our family working together, there is no dish"--and coincidences abound to a degree that strains believability, but the nicely ambiguous ending saves the story from feeling too pat, and the psychic cues readers to expect that fate may be at work. Nuanced characters, including the talented protagonist and her loving but realistically flawed family, are the stars of this introspective and poignant coming-of-age tale. It should win fans among those who appreciate a good balance between depth and a playful tone. (Fiction. 12 & up)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Sold by:
Random House
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

STEWART LEWIS is a singer-songwriter and radio journalist and is the author of You Have Seven Messages. He lives in Washington, D.C., and western Massachusetts. Visit him at StewartLewis.com.

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The Secret Ingredient 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
All I have to say is that The Secret Ingredient is apsulutely amazing. This is also a great book for You Have Sevem Messages lovers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is soooooo good! Anyone who is not sure if its good, it is. If you loved this book ad much as me, then you should read: You have Seven Messages, or Six Months Later! Both of those books are sooooo good!
majibookshelf More than 1 year ago
Olivia, a 16 year old teenage girl's world is about to change. Those are such cheesy lines, but this book wasn't that cheesy. The Secret Ingredient is a short and fast contemporary read. Olivia doesn't know her birth mother, but it's this summer that she's interested in finding out who she is. When she meets a psychic in the elevator who gives her a warning, Olivia starts connecting the dots about how her choices are connected. It's summer, so there's no school. Olivia starts working at a place thanks to her dad, and one day she meets mysterious boy Theo. Theo isn't much of a "mysterious" boy, but more of a boy who suddenly vanished on Olivia one day. Olivia works at her dad's restaurant, where she cooks a special meal every saturday. Olivia loves to cook, hence title, and you do not how many times the descriptions in the book has made me hungry! I was literally drooling when Olivia would cook breakfast for her parents. One day, Olivia finds a vintage cook book that she decides to buy. In it, she finds recipes that she decides to cook, alongside letters from a women a long time ago. As she started reading those letters, Olivia figured out what she has been missing, her mother. Olivia goes on the "journey" searching for her mother. It was interesting to see what she would find, and Olivia was a great character as well! Stewart Lewis did a good job in never making me feel bored while reading this book. Overall, The Secret Ingredient was a great contemporary read. Nothing was wrong with this book, other than maybe it  lacking a bit of excitement. The characters were great, and the plot was interesting as well! I really want to read Stewart Lewis's other book, You Have Seven Messages, because it's a MYSTERY!! The author did a good job in contemporaries, so let me see how well he does in mysteries too! If you're looking for a chill and fast read, then I recommend this for you!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ha im the first one to write a review! It would probably be helpful if I actually read it. Looks good. Her bfs name is the same as Emaline's bf in the book the Moon and More by the best author in the world(sarah dessen) Love, Mallory