Setting: United States
At the news of her mother's death, Natalie Tan returns home. The two women hadn't spoken since Natalie left in anger seven years ago, when her mother refused to support her chosen career as a chef. Natalie is shocked to discover the vibrant neighborhood of San Francisco's Chinatown that she remembers from her childhood is fading, with businesses failing and families moving out. She's even more surprised to learn she has inherited her grandmother's restaurant.
The neighborhood seer reads the restaurant's fortune in the leaves: Natalie must cook three recipes from her grandmother's cookbook to aid her struggling neighbors before the restaurant will succeed. Unfortunately, Natalie has no desire to help them try to turn things around--she resents the local shopkeepers for leaving her alone to take care of her agoraphobic mother when she was growing up. But with the support of a surprising new friend and a budding romance, Natalie starts to realize that maybe her neighbors really have been there for her all along.
I recently read this author’s second book, Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop, and loved it so I grabbed this one from the library.
This book also features food and magical realism but they are standalone novels and you can read them in either order.
I felt like I had to work to suspend disbelief a little more in this book. It wasn’t the magical realism that bothered me. It was economics.
Natalie’s grandmother was an immigrant who ran a two table restaurant in San Francisco. She managed to buy the building the restaurant and their apartment was in. It isn’t clear if this was before or after she started the restaurant. How did she get the money? Ok, I can live with that. Maybe SF real estate prices weren’t so high. But then, her mother shut down the restaurant and lived there with a child and no visible means of support. She didn’t go out. She didn’t have a job. Even if the building was paid for, how was she affording the taxes?
Also, Natalie wanted to be a chef. There was a whole restaurant on the first floor of her house and she’d never seen it until she came home after her mother died. You know a nosy kid would have used it as a place to play or hide or just checked it out from curiosity – especially a kid who wants to be a chef. If she and her mother fought about her being a chef a lot, how was “We have an empty restaurant right below our feet, Mom!” never brought up? It appears to have never occurred to her to use that space before.
I guess I’m being too practical about a story that features magical recipes. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Other than that the story was fun. She gets her grandmother’s recipe book and needs to figure out if the magic that came through these recipes was just from her grandmother or if they would work for her too. One plot point I liked is that after having the blow up fight with her mother over culinary school, she flunked out. Then Natalie had to consider that maybe her mother was correct. I don’t see that a lot in books. Usually the kid storms off to prove their parents wrong and everything goes great for them.