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Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Secret Ingredient by Stewart Lewis

Release Date: June 11, 2013
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Age Group: Young Adult
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Pages: 256
Buy: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound
Description: Goodreads
For fans of Sarah Dessen and Jay Asher's 13 Reasons Why comes a journey of family, food, romance, and self-discovery as Olivia, a teen chef living in L.A., finds a vintage cookbook and begins a search for her birthmother that will change her life forever.

Olivia doesn’t believe in psychics. But the summer before her senior year of high school, she meets one in an elevator.

This summer will be pivotal, the psychic warns. Please remember—all your choices are connected.

Olivia loves her life in Silverlake, Los Angeles, but lately, something’s been missing. And after getting this strange advice, her world begins to change. A new job leads Olivia to a gorgeous, mysterious boy named Theo. And as Olivia cooks the recipes from a vintage cookbook she stumbles upon, she begins to wonder if the mother she’s never known might be the secret ingredient she’s been lacking. 

But sometimes the things we search for are the things we’ve had all along.

Everyone has nagging thoughts, questions that get them wondering what life would be like if  things were different. For Olivia, an old cookbook will kick-start a summer of discovery that sends her on a search for the mother she's never known and teach her a lot about life, love, and family along the way.

Well-written and realistic, The Secret Ingredient was a fast read, but it didn't suck me in the way I'd hoped it would. Perhaps it was the comparison to 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher that made me find this novel wanting.

Adopted into a non-traditional family - two dads and an older brother - Olivia has worked in her father Bell's restaurant during the summer for the last few years, but this year he doesn't need the help because business isn't what it used to be. Knowing her family is struggling financially, she wants to find a job with a decent paycheck so she can help her family out, all the while continuing to cook the weekly special at the restaurant. Outside of the restaurant's dip in business, her brother is facing problems of his own, a friend's mom isn't doing well, and in the midst of everything Olivia is trying to navigate first love.

In a novel that covers so many of the issues people deal with day-to-day, I didn't feel an emotional connection. I anxiously waited for those heartrending moments when I'd be consumed by raw emotion. Sadly, they never came.

The broad plot was also a challenge for me. I felt like Stewart Lewis just took on too much and plot line never got pulled taught, leaving me with a sense that I'd wandered off the path somewhere. I hate to go back to expectations, but if something is compared to an edgy, emotional ride like 13 Reasons Why then I'm anticipating a tight plot that fits together like crisp new puzzle pieces and an emotional connection so deep I have trouble putting the book back on the shelf.

Olivia isn't the typical teenage girl. She comes off as very down-to-earth and aware of people's true motivations. She seems completely unconcerned with things like fashion, even quietly laughing at two girls looking for a modeling job because she knows it's not something she wants. It's rare that you find a character who shirks persona in favor of personality.

The Secret Ingredient is an endearing novel that overall makes for an enjoyable read. I found the cooking wisdom and one-liners amusing. However, the story didn't resonate with me. If you're in the mood to take a journey through the struggles of real life and you're okay with meandering a bit then I'd say this book is for you.

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