Gladys Gatsby has dreamed of becoming a restaurant critic for New York's biggest newspaper--she just didn’t expect to be assigned her first review at age 11. Now, if she wants to meet her deadline and hang on to her dream job, she’ll have to defy her fast-food-loving parents, cook her way into the heart of her sixth-grade archenemy, and battle Manhattan’s meanest maitre d’.
Gladys loves food. She loves to read about it, cook it, and eat it. Her parents don’t care about food at all. They pick up dinner from fast food restaurants every night. If they do try to cook, they believe that everything can be cooked just as well in a microwave as on a stove or oven.
Because of this Gladys as been cooking in secret for years. She gets caught the day that her parents come home early just as she sets the kitchen curtains on fire while trying to crisp the top of a creme brulee.
Now she’s in trouble. Cooking is forbidden for six months and/or until she makes some friends and gets involved with what her parents consider normal kids’ activities.
She’s trying to comply but when her entry into a newspaper essay contest in confused for a job application for a freelance food writer, she gets an assignment to review a dessert restaurant. Now she has to find a way to get to New York City from Long Island for her chance to make it big.
This book was really cute. It would appeal to anyone who is more into food than the people around them. If your family doesn’t understand why full fat is better to cook with than nonfat or why you can’t use coffee shop sweetener packets instead of sugar when baking, then you understand Gladys’ troubles.
My only complaint is that I wish there were recipes for the desserts she made.
San Francisco, 1906: Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong is determined to break from the poverty in Chinatown, and an education at St. Clare’s School for Girls is her best hope. Although St. Clare’s is off-limits to all but the wealthiest white girls, Mercy gains admittance through a mix of cunning and a little bribery, only to discover that getting in was the easiest part. Not to be undone by a bunch of spoiled heiresses, Mercy stands strong—until disaster strikes.
On April 18, a historic earthquake rocks San Francisco, destroying Mercy’s home and school. With martial law in effect, she is forced to wait with her classmates for their families in a temporary park encampment. Though fires might rage, and the city may be in shambles, Mercy can’t sit by while they wait for the army to bring help—she still has the “bossy” cheeks that mark her as someone who gets things done. But what can one teenage girl do to heal so many suffering in her broken city?
I started reading this book without really knowing what it was about. I may be one of the few people who enjoyed the story of Mercy’s time at school more than I liked the story after the earthquake.
This book is split into two sections by the earthquake. Before, Mercy is dealing with discrimination because of her sex, race, and class. She is a Chinese girl who has finished the limited amount of schooling available to her. She wants to be able to go to high school. She has a plan to win a scholarship to an elite private school. But once there she is disappointed to find it more interested in turning out proper young ladies than in the ladies increasing their knowledge. She is also put directly into a world of wealth that she has never known before.
The author does a great job of working in history lessons about treatment of Chinese people in California at the time. She discusses the exclusion laws that prevented people from coming from China. She talks about discriminatory housing laws that kept the Chinese population penned into a small area of the city.
I was really into this book when the earthquake occurs. Most of the girls at the school are boarding there from out of town so when the school is destroyed they have nowhere to go. They end up living in a tent city set up in a park. From here the book is a story of looting and cooking huge meals to try to feed everyone living in the park. There was limited disaster aid at the time. What help was available was out fighting the fires caused by the earthquake so survivors were mostly on their own.
The author notes that group cooking situations like the one in the book were set up in the aftermath of the earthquake. I’m glad she added that because I wouldn’t have believed it otherwise. It seemed a little too feel-good for everything that was going on before. I understand that the point was the discrimination can’t survive if everyone needs to work together when they have lost everything. But it seemed a little too easy in the book. No one seemed to really be grappling with the issues of loss and grief. Maybe they were supposed to be numb and just focusing on survival.
I’d recommend this book for a great look into life in 1906 San Francisco.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
“Ida Mae Jones dreams of flight. Her daddy was a pilot and being black didn’t stop him from fulfilling his dreams. But her daddy’s gone now, and being a woman, and being black, are two strikes against her. When America enters the war with Germany and Japan, the Army creates the WASP, the Women Airforce Service Pilots – and Ida suddenly sees a way to fly as well as do something significant to help her brother stationed in the Pacific. But even the WASP won’t accept her as a black woman, forcing Ida Mae to make a difficult choice of “passing,” of pretending to be white to be accepted into the program. Hiding one’s racial heritage, denying one’s family, denying one’s self is a heavy burden. And while Ida Mae chases her dream, she must also decide who it is she really wants to be.”
I loved this book so much. From the very first pages, I believed that we were in Louisiana in the 1940s. Ida Mae and her best friend feel like real people who grow apart over time because of the differences in their abilities to advance in the world. This book addresses not only racism but also the colorism in the African American community.
Ida Mae’s father taught her to fly for their crop dusting business. She hasn’t been able to get her license because the instructor wouldn’t approve a license for a woman. When women are started to be hired to ferry planes between bases to free up male pilots for combat, Ida Mae wants to join. She is very light skinned so she lets the recruiter assume that she is a white woman. This makes a divide between Ida Mae and her darker skinned mother, family, and friends. A big question in the story is can she come back from this? Once she starts living the life of a white woman, will she be willing to be seen as a black woman again?