February 12th, 2008


Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet by Sherri L. Smith

Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet by Sherri L. Smith takes place over the course of one day, starting at a girl's eighth grade graduation. Ana's entire family and both sets of grandparents come to her graduation ceremony, which is literally disastrous: a water pipe breaks, dousing the graduates just as Ana was beginning her salutatorian speech. After graduation, at the nudging of her best friend, she manages to invite her crush Jamie over for dinner.

It sounds simple enough, but it's not. Her grandparents don't really get along. Ana's mom is African-American and her dad is Chinese-American. Ana, her parents, and her bouncy little brother are happy and well, but the grands always experience a cultural clash when they are in the same room. The grandmothers frequently try to one-up each other with gifts and stories. Now they'll try to do the same as they race to prepare the perfect dishes for Ana's impromptu graduation dinner.

As if it weren't trouble enough having all of the grandparents in the kitchen cooking up completely different foods, some unexpected guests arrive, further complicating things. When Ana steps out of the kitchen and looks around the dinner table, she's bound to be surprised. Ultimately, her family's different cultures and tastes blend together and compliment each other, and the ending, like the meal, is satisfying for Ana.

A quick G-rated read for middle school students that encourages the blending and appreciation of different cultures. Maybe a little predictable, but fairly innocuous.

I also recommend Smith's previous releases: Lucy the Giant, the tale of a taller-than-average teen who leaves behind her alcoholic father and works on a crabbing boat; and Sparrow, the story of a girl raised by her grandmother after her parents and little brother were killed in a car accident when she was a toddler, who must find a new guardian after another tragedy strikes.

Sherri L. Smith dropped by Bildungsroman on Monday, February 18th, as part of her blog tour!
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Cindy Ella by Robin Palmer

All of her life, Cindy Ella Gold has been aware that her name reminds people of the fairy tale. However, she's not an storybook princess; she's a high school student. When sophomore Cindy writes an 'anti-prom' letter to the editor that gets published in her school paper, most of her prom-obsessed classmates (and even some of her teachers!) are shocked and appalled. Luckily, Cindy's friends and family support her to different degrees, even those who are planning on going to the prom themselves. Before this contemporary comedy is through, Cindy finds another way and another reason to celebrate.

Cindy Ella, Robin Palmer's debut novel, is a modern-day realistic Cinderella story without the fantasy elements. Instead of battling her evil stepmother, Cindy battles her frizzy hair. She doesn't have a horrible home life. In fact, even though she doesn't share their priorities, she gets along fairly well with her father, her half-brother, her stepmother, and her stepsisters. The latter are fraternal twins, popular at their school, anxious to get custom-made dresses for prom. Cindy's friends, peace-and-yoga-loving India and suave eighties film buff Malcolm, offer plenty of tongue-in-cheek commentary about the City of Angels and their affluent classmates. While the main characters acknowledge their wealth and the advantages it provides, Cindy herself prefers flip-flops to pricey shoes and doesn't care at all for shopping.

All in all, a fun read. The easily-flustered title character has plenty of embarrassing moments which will endear her to readers. Instead of scrubbing floors or waiting for her fairy godmother to appear, Cindy baby-sits her younger brother, hangs out with her friends, crushes on senior Adam Silver, and chats with her online pal BklynBoy. (Cindy describes her correspondence with BklynBoy as an "e-lationship." I love that.) She's an L.A. girl, yes, but she's very much an awkward teen, stumbling over her own feet rather than coveting glass slippers. Never aspiring for beauty or a crown makes Cindy a real winner. Recommended for fans of The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot or the Lizzie McGuire television series.

Personal Note: The only heels I own are my tap shoes. If someone offered me glass slippers, I'd probably respond, "May I have ballet slippers instead, please?"

Related Booklists: Fairy Tales Retold, Prom

Read my interview with Robin.

Visit author Robin Palmer's official website!
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