Foodie fiction is the nectar of the bookish gods, and today on the site we get to reveal the stunning cover for an upcoming YA debut guaranteed to make you drool. Salty, Bitter, Sweet is a contemporary romance releasing from Blink YA/HarperCollins on March 3, 2020 about a Latina Chicagoan named Isa whose life is in shambles following her parents’ divorce and the death of her abuela, but who figures out a way to put it back together, if only she can win a kitchen apprenticeship in France that will help give her a future to look forward to.
Author Mayra Cuevas sat down with us to talk about the book, the debut experience, and of course, this beautiful cover designed by Brand Navigation!
What was your first reaction when you saw the cover, and what makes it a great fit for the book?
MC: I cried! Then called my agent (and overall fairy godmother), the marvelous Saritza Hernandez, so we could share our screams of joy. My main character, Isa, is a tricultural morena grappling with a complicated family dynamic. I felt it was important to see a girl of color on the cover. I also wanted the cover to celebrate a girl of color as the star of a rom-com. She’s kicking butt in the kitchen, and having an awesome European adventure with “The Hot Spaniard,” as the girls call him. My editor, Hannah VanVels, and the Blink/HarperCollins creative team worked with me to make it all happen. I’m super grateful for their hard work and enthusiasm.
As a debut author, what’s the experience been like, especially in contrast to your dayjob as a journalist with CNN?
MC: It’s been equal parts exhilarating and stressful. I’ve been writing fiction for six years, so by now I’m used to juggling my passion for writing YA fiction with my day-to-day CNN responsibilities. However things got crazy a few weeks ago, when in the middle of an edits deadline, I got sent to Puerto Rico to cover the protests against Governor Ricardo Roselló and, much to my mother’s dismay, ended up in the middle of riots — tear gas and all. The day after I got home, I had to quickly switch gears to meet my deadline. Which I did!
Isabella is trying to win a kitchen apprenticeship in the book. What’s her favorite thing to cook, and what’s yours?
MC: Food is a source of joy but also pain for Isabella. The kitchen offers much needed refuge from her messy home life, but it’s a sad reminder of the special bond she shared with her late Cuban abuela, Lala. Lala used to bake the most amazing “Cuban-American” apple pies as a way to give of herself to others. Isa wants to follow in her footsteps, but is too caught up in the world of French haute cuisine, making soufflés and Mille Crêpe cakes. Like Lala, I love to bake a good ol’ fashioned apple pie— except mine is of the “Puerto Rican-American” variety. It’s my husband’s favorite! (Must be noted: he’s from the Midwest). I also LOVE a traditional Spanish flan with a rich caramel sauce. I included a delicious flan recipe in the book. [Editor’s Note: YUM!]
I love books that are set outside the U.S. What compelled you to set part of Salty, Bitter, Sweet in France in particular?
MC: Most of the novel is set in Lyon, France — gastronomic capital of the world. The setting itself is meant to raise the stakes as Isa competes for a rare apprenticeship in the kitchen of one of the world’s most renowned chefs. As her story progresses, the city will also serve as the backdrop to a steamy romance with “The Hot Spaniard,” who unexpectedly enters her life.
Additionally, one of my favorite YA novels is Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss, so it was fun to write my own French-based romance with a Latina protagonist.
The book also has a romance; can you share a little about those sparks?
MC: Lots and lots of sparks, in the vein of Clueless. Isa is a control freak. And what better way to make a control freak lose her cool than to bring in a laissez faire-kinda guy into the picture. Diego will challenge Isa’s obsessive approach to life and in turn she will help him make peace with his own transformation.
What’s on your to-read list right now, and what are you excited for in 2020?
MC: I have multiple reading book piles in my bedroom with books written in English and Spanish. On the English pile, I’m reading several YA novels by fellow #LasMusas writers: Water in May by Ismée Williams, We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Key Mejia, and The Storm Runner by J.C. Cervantes. I also have a couple of adult titles in the mix: The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni and The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester. On the Spanish pile, I have a few books I picked up in Puerto Rico over the summer: Papi by Rita Indiana, Cartas al Agua by Ana Teresa Toro, Nenísimas by Tere Dávila, and Nuestra Señora de la Noche by Mayra Santos-Febres. On audio, I’m listening to Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice. I’ve realized over the years that listening to Jane Austin is the only way to make my insane Atlanta commute enjoyable.
Salty, Bitter, Sweet releases March 3, 2020 and is available for preorder now.