Emoni Santiago is a teenage mother to a beautiful baby girl named Emma and granddaughter to an amazing ‘buela. Belonging to Black Hispanic ethnicity — from Puerto Rico living in Philly aka Philadelphia, Emoni aspires to be a professional chef. But how does she make her dreams come true?
First off, the cover is gorgeous and so are the part pages in the book with beautiful illustrations on top of each chapter number. I expected this book to have some recipes and it indeed has, but not too many. The recipes highlight the emotions that Emoni goes through while tackling each situation that she comes across personally, professionally and academically. The story unfolds by introducing Emoni’s school and her best friend Angelica, with flashbacks explaining how she got pregnant in the first place and her relationship with Emma’s father, Tyrone. With difficulties of coping with school and child care, Emoni wonders if she can ever make her dream of becoming a chef come true. But things get interesting when her school introduces a cooking class with a trip to Spain as a part of the curriculum.
“Cooking is about respect. Respect for the food, respect for your space, respect for your colleagues and respect for your diners. The chef who ignores one of those is not a chef at all.”Chef Ayden
Emoni cooks with passion and intuition that she uses to make her recipes more interesting with unusual ingredients. She loves cooking, but with Emma, school and her part-time work at a burger joint, she feels her dreams need to be put on hold for a long while. Malachi, a key individual who gets introduced as the new guy transferred from Newark and is interested in befriending Emoni from the beginning, is an adorable and equally inspiring character. Even though Emoni clearly makes it a point that she is not a friend, Malachi is consistent in supporting and understanding her situation.
“I've had a lot of things to feel ashamed about and I've learned most of them are other people's problems, not mine.”Emoni Santiago
This story is entertaining and positive. It throws light on the difficulties of being a single teenage mother, a migrant, as well as being black Latino female juggling with her feelings of origin and identity. On top, her passion is tested when she is challenged yet motivated by Chef Ayden (her culinary instructor) who emphasizes the importance of techniques and teamwork in collaboration with instinct while working in a professional kitchen. I love Emoni's way of handling her situation(s) which are way beyond her years, but she does it well. The author has teased out different complexities in various characters, however, it does not deviate from the original story. I am happy to have picked this book during The Latinx Heritage Month (15-September to 15-October) and would highly recommend it if you haven't put it in your TBR list already.