Following a surprise move from San Francisco to Piper Bay, 12-year-old Susannah “Sana” Mikami is still adjusting to small-town life. She was hopeful that the move would mean that she and her family would have more time to connect; in the city, her successful parents were often too busy for her. But nothing has changed since the move, especially now that her father runs his own sushi restaurant and a production crew is filming a documentary. Sana wants to be a sushi chef like him, but he discourages her efforts after a past kitchen mishap. While longing for her dad’s attention, Sana also crushes on Koji Yamada, a local boy who’s resentful of Sana’s father’s perceived fame. Keeping her connection to her father secret, Sana befriends Koji and his mother, who teaches her Japanese cooking. But the arrival of Koji’s friend Haley threatens his and Sana’s budding relationship, and Sana fears that her lie will push Koji away for good. Florence (Sweet and Sour) knowledgeably renders tween obsession with Japanese kawaii culture via this sweet, low-conflict story line with a genial, appealing cast. Most characters are Japanese American; Haley cues as white. Ages 8–12. Agent: Tricia Lawrence, Erin Murphy Literary. (Jan.)
"A delightful middle school rom-com that will leave readers hungry." Kirkus Reviews
Praise for Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai:
*"Florence offers a tightly written narrative that is as fearless as it is balanced, diving into complicated feelings of distrust and isolation while still offering glimmers of friendship and hope." Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"A worthy inheritor of the teen romance tradition, and it comes right on time." NPR
Praise for Keep It Together, Keiko Carter:
"Sweet and smart." Kirkus Reviews
“This is the book I wish I could take back in time and give to my tween self.” Christina Soontornvat, Newbery Honor-winning author of A Wish in the Dark
Gr 5–7—Susannah "Sana" Mikami wants to learn to cook great Japanese food, but her father—the chef and owner of a popular sushi restaurant—actively discourages her interest. The 12-year-old finds another resource: one "C.A.B." (cute Asian boy) named Koji Yamada, whose mother gives Sana home-style cooking lessons. But food isn't the only draw for Sana—her crush on Koji grows as the pair spend summer afternoons together making how-to videos featuring her adorable animal sushi rolls. Misunderstandings, half-truths, and lies pile up as Sana evades her mother's questions about her new friends and hides her identity as the daughter of a renowned chef from the Yamadas. Written in a clear, straightforward style, the story includes mouth-watering descriptions of Japanese food, with some Japanese words and phrases woven into the text. Sana and Koji's tween romance includes handholding, planning a date, and a first kiss. Sana enjoys a surprising amount of independence and a decided lack of oversight from her otherwise protective and caring parents, but the family's heartfelt commitment to greater honesty in the future creates a satisfying and believable conclusion. VERDICT Young foodies will enjoy meeting a 12-year-old chef determined to master the art of Japanese cooking in this light tween romance.—Jenny Andrus
A 12-year-old girl meets a cute boy while spending her summer learning to cook.
Rising eighth grader Sana Mikami dreams of following in her father’s footsteps and becoming a successful chef. But ever since she made a careless mistake in the kitchen, Sana’s dad hasn’t given her lessons. They also left San Francisco, and now he’s too busy being filmed as the subject of a documentary about his new upscale sushi restaurant. Sana plans on spending this summer with her cousin and best friend, Charli Hirai, proving she can be a chef. But when Charli gets into an intensive arts program, Sana makes new plans with new friend Koji Yamada. Koji’s mom teaches her Japanese home cooking, and Koji helps her show off her new skills in online video tutorials. But Charli thinks Koji is trouble, and Koji resents Sana’s dad, perceiving him as a rich, privileged outsider in their small California town. So Sana lies to everyone, even her parents, as she pursues her dreams. This fun, lighthearted middle-grade romantic comedy centering Japanese American characters focuses on food and cooking even as it digs into topics such as discrimination against women in the sushi world. Sana’s relationships with friends and family grow as they work through dishonesty, miscommunications, and unspoken feelings. Beyond cooking, readers are introduced in an entertaining way to other characters’ passions, like art and gardening.
A delightful middle school rom-com that will leave readers hungry. (Fiction. 9-12)