REVIEW: The Sweet Life of Stella Madison by Lara M. Zeises

My friend, Molly, keeps hounding me to write a book and I often respond that I have no time for creativity. Even though, yes, I would love to write a book someday. Well, when I read The Sweet Life of Stella Madison (Delacorte) by Lara M. Zeises, I sent a message off to Molly, informing her that I couldn't write a book anymore because Stella is the book that I wanted to write. Fresh voice, foodie-centered, cute boys, smart heroine. It was a thoroughly enjoyable read and Lara M. Zeises was the perfect author to write it.

Wouldn't it just be Stella Madison's luck that she was born to foodie parents when she'd rather eat Whoppers and hamburgers? Her parents, who own a restaurant together, have been separated for years and, when they finally start dating other people, Stella can't deal. Naturally, because of her lineage, everyone assumes Stella is into food as well, and she is recruited to write restaurant reviews for the local paper over the summer. Can she fake being a foodie? Add a hot older guy interning in her parents' restaurant, tempting her to stray from her sweet boyfriend, and you have a recipe for disaster (Yuk, yuk. Couldn't resist...)

Zeises has gorgeous food descriptions. In particular, each chapter starts off with a menu. I loved the menu at the beginning of chapter 2 best: "'Saluting Summer': Strawberry and blue cheese salad with white balsamic vinaigrette; herbed sweet-potato chips with crème fraîche; chicken breasts stuffed with roasted peaches and topped with a light Gorgonzola cheese sauce; blueberry shortcake surprise." Sounds amazing, no?

I also loved the way in which writing about food and exploring food is a metaphor for life's challenges. I loved the moment when Jeremy (the hot chef intern) tells Stella, "I've talked to you enough to know your voice. And this isn't your voice. This is you trying to play restaurant critic instead of being one. It sounds generic and inauthentic. You can do better than this. I'm absolutely certain of that." From there, Stella and Jeremy cook gnocchi together in teen's version of the pottery scene from Ghost. Romantic with a touch of sexy. Food moves the plot forward, and it also plays a part in Stella's search for authenticity and finding out who she is outside of her parents, friends, and boyfriend.

The book can border on the sentimental at times with statements like: "Cooking is a science. It is an art, a craft. It does not work unless you give it your heart and soul and sweat." But those moments are few and far between. Teens will find this fun and frothy, and it might even inspire some new foodies. The food descriptions are entirely accessible, even for the non-foodie. I enjoyed this from beginning to end, and librarians countrywide will no doubt be left wondering what sort of phenomenal dishes Zeises creates in her own kitchen. I would love to see what sort of author talk she would give to teens about food and writing!

A true foodie book for teens. I recommend it highly!

Other reviews:

Tea Cozy: I appreciate that Liz points out Stella has a very healthy relationship with food. It's so refreshing to encounter a character that is normal and healthy for a change!

Bookends: I like Cindy's point about Stella trying to find out who she is among some big personalities. There is definitely a coming-of-age aspect to this story.

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