You can tell North of Happy, by Adi Alsaid, is a special book from its very first page. After all, how many novels have you read that open with a delicious recipe? He sets the tone immediately with a first chapter that hands you a tasty recipe for tacos…pairing it with some heartache. And that’s the magic of Alsaid’s writing right there, whether we’re talking about Let’s Get Lost or Never Always Sometimes: how he manages to pair up whimsy and quirk with all-too-real feelings of heartbreak and loss. Each chapter pays out that promise, dishing out a new recipe you’ll want to make in your own kitchen…after you’ve finished having your emotions run through Alsaid’s kitchen blender in that chapter, of course.
In his latest, North of Happy, we meet Carlos, a teen who has grows up with a wealthy family and attends a rather fancy, exclusive school full of fellow rich kids. Everyone dreams the same sort of dream, with their elite parents’ support, of heading off to college before returning to take over the family business. And Carlos plans to do the same. Until he doesn’t.
You see, Carlos has a passion for food and cooking. And when his older brother dies tragically while traveling, suddenly his world doesn’t feel so black-and-white, so do-this-then-this. He decides to maybe live for himself instead of doing what everyone keeps telling him to do, running away to the U.S. to pursue his dream of cooking. The novel is just as delicious as it sounds. And after you’ve devoured it, you might be hungry for more food-filled YA. Don’t worry, we’ve got you.
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, by Lucy Knisley
Gasp! A graphic novel. That’s right, Lucy Knisley’s wonderfully charming food-themed illustrated graphic novel is hilarious and full not just of food but of heart. We see her childhood through food, and how her life was framed by what she was eating and cooking. Each chapter includes a beautifully illustrated recipe, either originals by Lucy or family recipes handed down over the years.
Cake Pop Crush, by Suzanne Nelson
The first book in Nelson’s Wish series, all of which deal with food, Cake Pop Crush introduces readers to Alicia, a teen who has grown up around Say It With Flour most of her life. It’s a small bakery run by her dad, that’s very much in a You’ve Got Mail–style battle with Perk Up, a major café chain that has opened right across the street. And, of course, things get complicated when she becomes smitten with a boy at school, who happens to be the son of the café’s owner…
Also See: There are a bundle of food-related books in this series, with increasingly hilarious titles, including Macarons at Midnight, Hot Cocoa Hearts, You’re Bacon Me Crazy, and Donut Go Breaking My Heart.
A la Carte, by Tanita S. Davis
Another novel filled with the main character’s recipes, A la Carte features a leading lady, Lainey, who wants to be a famous chef with her own reality show, like her idol Julia Child. But a run-in with heartbreak leaves her alone and reeling, and she finds comfort in food. From the gorgeous cover to the tasty recipes to characters you’ll just adore, there’s a lot to love in this book.
From Where I Watch You, by Shannon Grogan
When a YA novel comes out from the team at Soho, who brought us books like More Happy Than Not and The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone, you know there’s going to be something compellingly dark beneath the surface. In the case of Grogan’s debut, about a teen with dreams of becoming a professional baker who has her eyes set on winning a scholarship to a culinary arts school, it isn’t all sweetness and frosting. Lurking in the shadows is someone who’s stalking her, leaving her notes that bring up dark moments from her past, including the ghost of her sister. Family secrets and sweet treats collide in this unique story.
Taste Test, by Kelly Fiore
More recipes! Yes! Kelly Fiore’s delicious contemporary novel is set inside a barbecue joint, where Nora has been working since forever. Her dad has taught her everything he knows about the art of food, and she’s ready to put her knowledge to the test, quite literally, in Taste Test, a reality cooking competition for teenagers. It’s there that she’ll have to find out what she really wants, while trying to figure out who is sabotaging the competitors around her. Romance! Delicious food! The high drama associated with reality TV! Yes, please.