Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet
Author: Laekan Zea Kemp
Publication Date: April 6, 2021
Genre: YA – Contemproary
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (The NOVL)
I’m Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter meets Emergency Contact in this stunning story of first love, familial expectations, the power of food, and finding where you belong.
As an aspiring pastry chef, Penelope Prado has always dreamed of opening her own pastelería next to her father’s restaurant, Nacho’s Tacos. But her mom and dad have different plans — leaving Pen to choose between disappointing her traditional Mexican-American parents or following her own path. When she confesses a secret she’s been keeping, her world is sent into a tailspin. But then she meets a cute new hire at Nacho’s who sees through her hard exterior and asks the questions she’s been too afraid to ask herself.
Xander Amaro has been searching for home since he was a little boy. For him, a job at Nacho’s is an opportunity for just that — a chance at a normal life, to settle in at his abuelo’s, and to find the father who left him behind. But when both the restaurant and Xander’s immigrant status are threatened, he will do whatever it takes to protect his new found family and himself.
Together, Pen and Xander must navigate first love and discovering where they belong — both within their families and their fiercely loyal Chicanx community — in order to save the place they all call home.
Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet is that book that transported me back to my restaurant worker days and being surrounded by the magic of the food in New Mexico.
I’ll be honest, I was not the biggest fan of Pen when the book started off. She’s hotheaded, impatient, and thrives off emasculating men. BUT, there’s more to her exterior shell…a deep passion for cooking and her family’s restaurant including everyone who works in it.
Unfortunately, Stella’s family doesn’t want her to bear the burden of restaurant life for her and thinks she’s taking classes at the local community college in order to become a nurse.
I loved the chemistry between Pen and Xander. It was the perfect combination of grumpy vs sunshine one without falling prey to harmful stereotypes.
I also loved what Pen’s father was able to do not for those who worked at the restaurant but his community as well. This book seamlessly blended the importance and family and community into the entirety of the plot.
Overall, this is a fantastic coming of age story that really dives into the importance of family and culture.
Thank you to The NOVL for providing a review copy. This did not influence my review. All opinions are my own.
You can get your copy of Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet here!
Laekan Zea Kemp is a writer living in Austin, TX. She received her B.A. in English from Texas Tech University in her hometown of Lubbock, TX, and her M.A. in Teaching from the University of North Texas in Denton. She was a high school ESL teacher for several years and had the privilege of teaching students from all over the world. From 2012 to 2017 she self-published several novels, including a paranormal romance series, The Girl in Between, before writing what would be her traditionally published debut, SOMEWHERE BETWEEN BITTER & SWEET, out from Little Brown Young Readers on April 6th, 2021.
She participated in DVPit in April of 2019, signed with her agent, Andrea Morrison at Writers House in May of 2019, and sold her debut in June of that same year. She has three objectives when it comes to storytelling: to make people laugh, cry, and crave Mexican food. Her work celebrates Chicanx grit, resilience, creativity, and joy while exploring themes of identity and mental health.
In addition to writing, she is also the host of the Author Pep Talks podcast, featuring interviews with writers who have experience writing through grief, trauma, and heartbreak.
She’s a member of the marketing collective, Las Musas, which began in 2018 as a way to connect women and marginalized people whose gender identity aligns with femininity and who were soon to be traditionally published. What started as a way to uplift marginalized voices evolved to include a mentorship program for aspiring Kidlit authors and illustrators and the first ever Latinx Kidlit book festival. Recently, Laekan along with other Musas, launched the Las Musas podcast aimed at illuminating the traditional publishing experience from a distinctly Latinx perspective.
She invites you to visit her online via her website and on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @LaekanZeaKemp. She also has a personal blog, updated weekly, where she writes about creativity and mental health, as well as a monthly newsletter where she shares the details of her publishing journey. You can buy signed copies of her books at BookPeople, her local indie bookstore. She is currently scheduling free virtual school and book club visits.