Emoni Santiago is an Afro-Puerto Rican-American high school senior living in Philadelphia and raising her two and half year old daughter, who she calls Babygirl, but whose given name is Emma. Emoni has had to grow up pretty quickly with the responsibility of raising a child, going to school, and working to help supplement her family’s income. She was also raised by her ‘Buela (grandmother), after her mother died in childbirth, and her father left to go back to Puerto Rico, abandoning her out of grief. She has a complicated relationship with him.
She is also a very talented cook, and secretly dreams of one day opening her own restaurant, a dream that seems very far out of reach to her as she already feels like she’s barely coping under the weight of all her responsibilities. Her cooking is very instinctual, and often when other people eat it they feel emotions or memories pop up almost against their will, so there’s just a teensy element here of magical realism, but it wasn’t enough for me to fully categorize the book in that genre. It’s mostly straight fiction. The central struggle of the book is Emoni figuring out what she wants her life to look like going forward, and learning to balance not only all of her responsibilities, but learning when it’s okay to improvise in her cooking and in her life, and when you should follow the recipe.
Highly recommend this one! I added her follow up book to my TBR the other day, and then I realized it was a novel in verse, which I normally hate, but I enjoyed this one so much I think I might give it a shot anyway.
As with all fiction that has lots of food in it, don’t read it hungry (and this one has several recipes, but not enough! I want that saffron black-eyed pea chicken onion rice!).