Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet | Laekan Zea Kemp


Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laekan Zea Kemp

Out Now from Little Brown Books for Young Readers; 384 pages

Content Warnings: Self harm, mentions of mental illness, ICE, police brutality, anxiety

About the Author: “Laekan Zea Kemp is a writer living in Austin, Texas. She’s also the creator and host of the Author Pep Talks podcast, as well as a contributor to the Las Musas podcast. She has three objectives when it comes to storytelling: to make people laugh, cry, and crave Mexican food. Her work celebrates Chicanx grit, resilience, creativity, and joy while exploring themes of identity and mental health. Her debut novel, SOMEWHERE BETWEEN BITTER & SWEET is out now from Little Brown Young Readers.” (Bio taken from the author’s website). 

Find Laekan Zea Kemp on the following platforms:

“But most importantly, we cook to remember what love tastes like…”

Pen is an aspiring pastry chef who dreams of building off of her years working at her family’s restaurant, Nacho’s Tacos. Her parents, however, have different plans for her. Everything comes crashing down when Pen confesses that she’s been lying to her family…for months. When presented with an ultimatum, she must decide between appeasing her parents or drawing out a path of her own. Ultimately her life is thrown out of orbit and she has to adjust to a whole new set of responsibilities. When she comes upon a new hire at Nacho’s, Pen starts to open up more about things she’s been too scared to confront. The new hire, Xander, has his own life to piece back together and alongside Pen, they take chances to protect their newfound family and community. 

I love this book so much. The discussions of self-harm and immigration are very nuanced and valuable. I think Pen acknowledging how she maintains a hard exterior in spite of all her emotions spoke to me and my experiences. The elements of found family, first love, and a strong Chicanx/Tejanx community made me want to read this book over and over again. It was such a fast read, and the fact that it is technically a New Adult novel made me ecstatic. I think what really makes this such a stand-out book is the amazing set of characters, from the Prados to staff at the restaurant to our two protagonists, Xander and Pen. They all reminded me of my years as a restaurant kid, and it warmed my heart to feel enveloped in the fast-paced atmosphere. Then there is the discussion of THE FOOD. My mouth was literally watering from only a few pages in. Something I also enjoyed from the novel is the alternating POV between Xander and Pen. They each had super distinct voices, and Pen’s commanding personality is EVERYTHING. I love how she maintains the control in her family, as most eldest Mexican daughters do, and her character inspires me. I can’t recommend this book enough. It is a powerful debut in the Latinx contemporary canon. 

PRR Writer, Jackie Balbastro