Disclosure: Some of the links in this book review for Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.
Thanks to NetGalley and Hear Our Voices Book Tours for an ARC of this wonderful novel. What an absolute delight reading it, including all the overwhelming emotions. It’s an aptly named book, as the story does fall somewhere in between the two.
I would like to disclose at this time this is not exactly an Own Voices book review. Because it said Latinx representation, I assumed that meant an amalgamation of different cultures would appear in the book aside from Mexican-American. However, the story solidly depicts the Mexican-American/Chicanx community. While I did find many similarities between my experiences and the character’s, we do not hail from the same community.
Summary of Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet
Pen Prado loves working at Nacho’s Tacos, her father’s restaurant, alongside her family. She dreams of opening her own pastelería next to his restaurant some day. Those dreams come crashing down when she reveals the truth to her family: she hasn’t been going to school like she said she was. Her father fires her from the restaurant and she chooses to move out rather than stay at home and go to school. Pen discovers who she truly is and her place in the world.
Xander comes to Nacho’s Tacos seeking a job and refuge. He lives undocumented with his grandfather, having been left by his father and mother as a child. He’s looking for a sense of family, including his estranged father, but it might come at a cost. Worse, the neighborhood crook who preys on desperate small businesses and families, J.P., has him in his sights. Together with Pen, he must find out how to save the place he thinks of as home.
Pen and Xander are electric, both on their own and together. Readers will easily fall in love with these kids as they navigate growing pains and fight for their community. It’s hard to talk about the characters individually, as they are so interconnected with one another and their families. This makes Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet realistic and relatable. Every character is their own person but inextricably tangled with their culture and community.
The relationships feel organic and real. Pen’s role as the little sister to Angel, her more reckless big brother, rings true. Likewise, her bond with Chloe, her best friend, shows the strength and love between two women who become sisters. The whole cast of characters at the restaurant felt like a genuine family. They bickered and played pranks on one another. They also came together and had one another’s backs when it came down to fighting J.P.’s scare tactics.
Depictions of Mental Health Issues
Kemp does a phenomenal job of showcasing Pen’s struggles with depression. When she tries to hold it all in, the atmosphere suffocates you alongside her. As she finds the strength to pull through her depressive episodes, you feel the world opening up right beside her. Throughout every moment Pen deals with her mental illness, the reader feels it with her. Kemp’s writing does an amazing job of creating that mood without being didactic.
Kemp’s writing creates a lush and vibrant setting throughout. Her writing takes full advantage of all the senses, bringing to life every scent, sound, taste, feeling, and sight. It perfectly reflects the food and what it means to the characters. Fair warning, you will get hungry while reading, so I suggest keeping a snack in hand.
She also perfectly weaves the themes of the story throughout the plot and through character development. She does not shy away from the uglier parts of healing from trauma. But she always shines a light of hope through the characters and their language. The end of the novel doesn’t wrap up neatly, but it leaves a sense of promise for the future.
Rating of Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet
Hands down, this book deserves 5 out of 5 stars. From the story to the characters to the writing, the whole thing is perfect.