Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet

Rate this book
This is a previously-published edition of ISBN 9780316460279.

A story of first love, familial expectations, the power of food, and finding where you belong.

Penelope Prado has always dreamed of opening her own pastelería next to her father's restaurant, Nacho's Tacos. But her mom and dad have different plans—leaving Pen to choose between disappointing her traditional Mexican American parents or following her own path. When she confesses a secret she's been keeping, her world is sent into a tailspin. But then she meets a cute new hire at Nacho's who sees through her hard exterior and asks the questions she's been too afraid to ask herself.

Xander Amaro has been searching for home since he was a little boy. For him, a job at Nacho's is an opportunity for just that—a chance at a normal life, to settle in at his abuelo's, and to find the father who left him behind. But when both the restaurant and Xander's immigrant status are threatened, he will do whatever it takes to protect his newfound family and himself.

Together, Pen and Xander must navigate first love and discovering where they belong in order to save the place they all call home.

384 pages, Hardcover

First published April 6, 2021

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Laekan Zea Kemp

15 books544 followers
Laekan Zea Kemp is a writer living in Austin, Texas. Her debut novel, Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet was a 2022 Pura Belpré Honor Recipient. She has three objectives when it comes to storytelling: to make people laugh, cry, and crave Mexican food. Her work celebrates Chicane grit, resilience, creativity, and joy while exploring themes of identity and mental health.

Find her on social media @LaekanZeaKemp

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
584 (28%)
4 stars
914 (45%)
3 stars
446 (22%)
2 stars
66 (3%)
1 star
11 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 416 reviews
February 4, 2021

Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || Pinterest

SOMEWHERE BETWEEN BITTER AND SWEET is a tough book to rate and I waffled between three and four stars because there were some things I really liked and some things that I didn't like quite as much. (For the record, three star reviews are the hardest to write because how do you say "yeah, I liked it, but I didn't REALLY like it and here's why?") This is the story of two Latinx teens with very different problems, who come together because of food-- and oh my God, the food descriptions are one of the best things about this book, because food is one of those things that sparks joy and brings people together and the author perfectly captured the emotional experience of eating something that your parents taught you how to make, and watching your loved ones consume something that you prepared with love.

Pen, the heroine, wants to work in the restaurant business. She doesn't want to go to college. Some people might not like this but I actually did because college isn't necessarily a path for everyone, and sometimes it's better to go to a school to study the trades, and I think it's nice for kids to see rep where other paths are explored.

Xander, the hero, is an undocumented immigrant who is searching for his father, and he's currently living with his grandfather while also lying low. He meets Pen when he's hired to work at a restaurant, cash under the table. They end up becoming friends and then, maybe, something more? Guess you'll have to read to find out. (And you should.)

I liked how the struggles of each character were represented although, like another reviewer, I was a little surprised that Pen could afford to live on her own on a fast food salary in a nice-ish apartment. I thought this was set in Texas(???) and from what I understand, Texas real estate is almost as pricey as California, so I wasn't sure if this would be feasible. It certainly wouldn't be here (in California). There were also a LOT of plot strings and it felt like a lot of them were resolved pretty hastily in the last act, and I think part of that might have been because of the time spent on developing the romance (which didn't really work-- their connection felt forced to me, you might disagree). I also felt like the subjects of depression and (CONTENT WARNING: self-harm) were pretty glossed over, which surprised me because this was compared to the book I AM NOT YOUR PERFECT MEXICAN DAUGHTER, and even though this explores the same themes of how depression can manifest as anger (something that REALLY isn't talked about enough), I didn't feel like that comparison was very fair to either book because this book didn't feel quite as developed in terms of fleshing out characters. (IANYPM is one of my favorite young adult books, so I may be biased.)

BETWEEN BITTER AND SWEET is definitely a YA for older teens because of its focus on what happens after school and also because of some pretty grim content, including an evil loan shark type character who is very terrible and some scenes of police discrimination. Nothing is over the top and everything is handled with care, but I think it will be intense reading for some (even though it serves a purpose). At the end of the day, this is a story about making mistakes, forgiving family for being imperfect, and how the things that can make a community vulnerable can also make it strong in times of need. And also, of course, FOOD.

I would definitely read more from this author. (Also, the author's note at the end was very sweet. Read it.)

3 to 3.5 stars
Profile Image for Olivia (Stories For Coffee).
593 reviews5,607 followers
March 29, 2021
I absolutely loved this YA contemporary. It was so sweet and quick to read while also packing in some hard-hitting topics like being undocumented, moving out of your parent's house, struggling with a mental illness, dealing with strained familial relationships, and going after one's dreams.

I also loved how soft Xander and Penelope's romance was and how their aspirations and relationships with their families took center stage in this story rather than focusing solely on their budding relationship.

This book was full of Latinx culture, the love for food and how it can heal the hearts of others, quirky side characters, and left the biggest smile on my face.

TW: Self-harm, anxiety, fire, ICE, police brutality
Profile Image for Katie B.
1,294 reviews2,962 followers
March 1, 2021
3.5 stars

I'm not quite sure how to classify this YA read because it falls into more than one category. There's some romance but it's also a coming of age story. Regardless of how you want to label it, I enjoyed this book and was impressed with the different real world subjects the author was able to tackle in the story.

Penelope "Pen" Prado is an aspiring pastry chef and has worked in her father's restaurant, Nacho's Tacos, for years. Her dreams don't exactly match up with her parents' expectations and that leads to Pen taking a sink or swim course on this whole adulting thing.

Xander Amaro was raised by this grandfather after his father left him behind. Due to his immigration status Xander needs to fly under the radar and hopefully his new job at Nacho's Tacos will allow him to do so. Pen and Xander each have their own set of problems and after meeting, they form a connection. What could happen next?

The story alternates between Pen and Xander and I liked both characters. I do wish more time was spent on Pen's mental health issues as it could have been explored more in depth. Xander's storyline of wanting to search for his father did tug at the heartstrings as well as some other parts of the plot.

I received an uncorrected copy of this book and I do hope the derogatory term "bums" is edited out of the final version. It pops up in a conversation about potentially being homeless and people who dig cigarette butts out of public ashtrays. So much of the heart of the story is being a part of a community and helping others in need and it just did not make sense for the character to say it.

One other issue I had with the story is there were a few things that didn't seem realistic. The apartment was something I questioned for a couple different reasons. I also thought one of the plotlines wrapped up too nice and neat in regards to one of the characters. Trying to be vague so I don't give away spoilers.

Overall, this book is a pretty solid read as the cultural issues were fascinating and definitely underrepresented in ya fiction and really all genres.

I received an advance uncorrected proof but was not obligated to post a review here. All thoughts expressed are my honest opinion.
Profile Image for Elysian Fields.
2,004 reviews32 followers
January 10, 2021
Oh my heart!!! This story is AMAZING! Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet is a story (and it is a story, not just a book) full of beauty, real issues, heartfelt moments, and courageous characters among many other things. My favorite read of the year buy far! I am so in love with this story. 💜💜

Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet is a breathtaking, emotional and heart warming coming of age story that doesn’t shy away from difficult issues or sugar coat life. The pages are filled with real and raw moments, both lovely and agonizing, both personal and social. This is a must-read story for all, one that needs to be celebrated and shared repeatedly. (I could praise this book for pages and pages, hours, and days but I will do my best to be concise. LOL.)

Something Between Bitter and Sweet is an elegant story about two young people, a community, and people in general. Pan, a young adult, who is trying to find her place, not only in the world, but within her family and within herself. Xander, and undocumented young man, trying to find answers to life and family where he belongs and is wanted; as well as a community that might struggle at times, but at the heart knows how to respect and support each other.

The story shows readers both the favorable and the more difficult aspects of life and growing up but also what it is like for people trying to change their circumstances within the world, their community, their family roles and with in themselves (so, all of us). This is all accomplished around a taco restaurant, Nacho’s Tacos, that has been part of the community for years; and the restaurant is a formidable character itself.

Helping wherever they can and with the most universal way of gathering and supporting food. The myriad of dishes mentioned made me both hungry and nostalgic. This story highlights amazing dishes, desserts and the love that goes into every bite.

However, Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet is more than a YA story of first love and growing up. The issues mentioned in the story are universal and affect us all; ones that all readers can relate to on some level: mental health, family structure and expectations, cultural and social issues, and romantic and friendship relationships, among many others. I found myself relating to the characters, their struggles, wanting to help (and wishing I could slide me number to them so that we cold talk and support each other). As I was reading this story, I found this entire cast to be not only my friends but by the end, part of my family.

The beauty of this story is not only in the development of the characters, their hearts, and actions but also in the inspiration the community provides for each other. There is a moment within the story (an entire chapter, chapter 21 to be exact) where I want to join in, I want to celebrate, I want to live in that moment for a while. I want to experience what it is like and to gather strength and support from it. It is truly an outstanding moment and written with such heart and beauty.

The language, the culture, the heart and the joy, the pain and the fear and the uncertain moments, the community and the love, the struggles and the trust, the respect and the beauty all come together to make this a must-read experience. I really hope others read this story and I really hope this becomes a story, a book that is required reading for all students. There are so many wonderful lessons within these pages, it would truly be a loss to miss out on this read.

There were a few words that came to mind while reading: Family, friends, food, human, relatable, heart, courage, emotional, vivid, real, raw, engaging, hope, faith and community.

If you need one more push to check this story out, here it is, the quote that stood out to me, that I think really defines the “bones/heart” of this story is this:

“Because in life, sometimes the only way to move forward is to do the scary thing. Especially when it’s the right thing… Courage isn’t a currency, and claiming it isn’t a game. The things that scare us aren’t roadblocks but mirrors, and bravery isn’t about shattering our reflection, it’s about having the strength to look.”
See, pure beauty!

Check out this book for more here information or to pre-order: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08F4ZTGHC/...
Profile Image for Elena L. .
573 reviews83 followers
December 28, 2020
[4.5/5 stars]

SOMEWHERE BETWEEN BITTER AND SWEET follows Pen, a young Latina who works at her father's Mexican restaurant Nacho's Tacos and has a dream of opening her own pastelería. However, her Mexican-American parents have different plans for her. When she meets a new hire at Nacho's, Xander, they navigate into a journey of self-discovery and belonging.

What a beautiful debut YA novel! To begin with, I really loved the cultural aspects in this novel as I felt like swimming in a sea of Mexican culture - the authenticity of language plus portraying food as cultural identity and demonstration of love warmed my heart. Kemp dives deep into the theme of
familial expectations, which Pen has to choose between her own freedom to pursue her dreams or to fulfill her parents' unaccomplished whishes. I could relate at some degree to Pen's experience while being an immigrant and also daughter of immigrants - the struggles are real when it comes to decide the better choice to your life without failing your family.

In a different situation from Pen, Xander deals with sometimes harsh complexities of his undocumented status. I didn't need much effort to empathize with his relentless sentiment of being invisible in addition to the fear that daily haunts him. His interaction with Pen was organic and heartfelt; and I thought that we couldn't find a better supporter than Xander.
Although I wasn't invested in all the side characters, they felt like a big family and were well-built to complement the main characters.

From moments when Pen needs to find where she belongs to occasions which she/her family/Xander fights the helplessness, the story doesn't hold back showing us the many challenges that Chicanx community faces in the US. I was ultimately moved by their resilience and the last part of the book opened my eyes to a different perspective of how resilience works.
SOMEWHERE BETWEEN BITTER AND SWEET is a contemporary Latinx story about first love, the power of food and the meaning of home.

[ I received an ARC from the publisher - Little, Brown Books for Young Readers - in exchange for an honest review ]
Profile Image for Laekan Kemp.
Author 15 books544 followers
November 4, 2020

PRE-ORDER: https://bit.ly/3639XEX
Enter the PRE-ORDER Campaign: http://www.laekanzeakemp.com/preorder

This story is a little piece of my heart & soul & a kaleidoscope view of so many important people & moments in my life.

Pen's mental health struggles mirror the mental health journey I've been on since my late teens & the conflict with her parents comes from those same late teen / early college years when my father was sick, my mother & I weren't getting along & it felt like my entire world was falling apart.

The setting of the restaurant has more joyful origins & was inspired by my partner's hilarious stories of working in a restaurant in our hometown. I loved all of their quirky traditions & inside jokes & wanted to use that environment to explore this idea of found families & belonging.

Then came Xander's character who is the embodiment of the resilience & bravery of my former students. I taught English as a Second Language for four years & got to see up close what it’s like for them & their families to navigate our ridiculous immigration system. I am in awe of their ability to persevere under those circumstances & I wanted Xander's character to capture their incessant hopefulness & endless compassion. They showed me what it really means to belong to & care for a community.

I hope that when people read this story they will see that the Mexican & Chicanx community is beautiful. That we are resilient, creative, powerful, loving, and proud. That we take care of each other. That we fight for each other. And that we will keep fighting together whether those battles are internal & require us to break down stigmas & talk about our heartbreak & trauma or those battles are coming from the outside world & require us to stand tall, to raise our voices, to lock arms & march. We deserve to take up space & we deserve to follow our dreams. This book being out in the world is one of mine & I can't wait to share it with all of you.
Profile Image for Laura H..
3 reviews3 followers
August 11, 2020
I am so excited for the release of this novel! I have several teenagers in my life that would benefit deeply from the discussions of passion, identity, and mental health. Penelope and Xander come across as incredibly relatable. Their struggle to deal with their emotional lives is taken with great care by the author, showing that fear and anxiety aren’t meant to be swallowed. Their relationship is a great example of how important it is to be willing to reach out, which is an awesome lesson in itself. It's so refreshing to read a book in which both female and male identifying characters are treated with equal care. I found that there was little space between plot development and the internal dialogues of the character- the flow and pacing was perfect! Absolutely a delight to read.

As an adult, I found myself highlighting and talking about certain lines with my partner, relating to not only myself as a teenager, but as to what kind of support I’d like to be for teens in the same position as these characters. This would be great as a book for parents to read along with their children, as a whole-class room novel, or as a book to tie yourself back to humanity if you're feeling lousy. A total accomplishment by the author, Laeken Kemp. All teens deserve to see themselves in literature, not only to develop self-worth but to also see that reading teaches you about life. This book does both! I hope to see this novel in the top 5 of best sellers lists.
Profile Image for Sam Taylor.
Author 1 book112 followers
July 26, 2020
LOVED THIS. A marvelously well-written YA contemporary about family and becoming an adult and finding your place in the world. The food descriptions are phenomenal and the characters are well-developed and will carry you through their dreams. I was sucked right into the story from the start. Yet another outstanding book to watch for in 2021!
Profile Image for Mrs. Keri Burns.
18 reviews1 follower
August 3, 2020
Every night that I picked up this book, the clock had hours pass before I could convince myself to finally put it down for sleep. The characters are so wonderful and strong and sincere that I had to know what would happen to them. I loved everything about this book but especially the dual POV. I want to be Pen! She is so brave and fierce and loving and honest and imperfect and real. I hope every girl finds her own Xander! He is selfless and gentle and strong and smart and lives with his heart wide open. I can’t wait to read everything else this author has written and will write in the future. Her writing is so full of love and honesty and hope but also brave enough to be real and vulnerable.
Profile Image for Ben Beach.
4 reviews1 follower
August 14, 2020
In Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet, Kemp has managed to capture the way that "between-ness" is truly a part of our world. Life, love, family, friends, food - nothing is all sweet, all the time. Nor would we actually want it to be. Although we might at times wish for a little less of the bitter, reality often has other ideas.

And so it is for Pen and Xander, as they face the bitter of real life and search for the sweet. They find just how unexpected it can be to encounter both. In the process, these two discover that we can never truly understand others' motivations and that the truth is often far more complex than we imagine.

A timely and moving story of young adults learning to deal with the world the previous generation has left them - bitter, sweet, or otherwise.
Profile Image for Toya (the reading chemist).
1,132 reviews97 followers
April 4, 2021
Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet is that book that transported me back to my restaurant worker days and being surrounded by the magic of the food in New Mexico.

I’ll be honest, I was not the biggest fan of Pen when the book started off. She’s hotheaded, impatient, and thrives off emasculating men. BUT, there’s more to her exterior shell...a deep passion for cooking and her family’s restaurant including everyone who works in it.

Unfortunately, Stella’s family doesn’t want her to bear the burden of restaurant life for her and thinks she’s taking classes at the local community college in order to become a nurse.

I loved the chemistry between Pen and Xander. It was the perfect combination of grumpy vs sunshine one without falling prey to harmful stereotypes.

I also loved what Pen’s father was able to do not for those who worked at the restaurant but his community as well. This book seamlessly blended the importance and family and community into the entirety of the plot.

Overall, this is a fantastic coming of age story that really dives into the importance of family and culture.

Thank you to The NOVL for providing a review copy. This did not influence my review. All opinions are my own.
August 4, 2020
This beautifully crafted story is told from the first-person perspectives of a female and male protagonist. Pen and Xander are both trying to navigate the transition between dependence and independence, adolescence and adulthood, and self-discovery with tight familial ties. Their stories stem from American born and immigrant experiences and an instant connection between their passion for food and culture. The author's masterful use of imagery brings the sights, tastes, sounds, and raw emotions to life from the first page and continually draws in the reader with impeccable detail and charmingly relatable characters. This book explores socioeconomic struggles, cultural expectations, immigration issues, as well as anxiety, depression, and self-doubt that haunt so many young adults today. Readers of all ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities will relate to this novel.
1 review
July 20, 2020
Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet is a beautiful, “coming of age” love story. It is refreshing to read a story about a beautiful, young LATIN woman! One of the main characters, Pen, is struggling to find her true self. While, Xander is looking for a sense of belonging. I like how the author switches from Pen’s perspective to Xander’s. It allows the reader to dive deeply into each character and fully understand their internal conflicts. Additionally, the story helps the reader understand the many challenges the Hispanic community faces here in the US. It is about young love, self acceptance, the importance of family and the need for a sense of belonging. I just thought it was lovely!
Profile Image for Halli Gomez.
Author 3 books22 followers
November 28, 2022
I was very lucky to get an eARC of this book. It was such a wonderful read. Told in dual POVs, Pen and Xander, we learn what a family really is. This book is filled with heart and struggle as these two young adults fight against society, family, and themselves as they figure out what the future holds for them. Readers will be able to relate to both characters.

The characters in this story were well-developed and had such unique feelings and voices, yet they came together so beautifully. And the food, wow! The detail the author went into writing the cooking scenes left my mouth watering.

The biggest impact in this story was Xander's struggle to find acceptance and safety as an undocumented kid. It is an eye opener for everyone who hasn't faced this challenge and a must read.
Profile Image for Alexa.
2,151 reviews11.3k followers
April 8, 2021
4.5 stars, and honestly, this book is wonderful and I feel like it’s going to be so underrated (which makes me sad!) It swept me up immediately from the start and I was so invested in Pen’s story, and in Xander’s. It was immersive and emotional, and I’m so glad I read it. More thoughts to come!
2 reviews
August 9, 2020
Truly could relate to the Cultural aspects of the novel. The author's message resonate with me , as an Immigrant parent and wanted whats the best for my daughters. Then again , our children do have their own dream and aspiration, so an Immigrant parent at time we have to let go of our expectation of our children, but Remember and Respect that you are not living their life. Thry are , so what made them feel fulfilled, thats all you could Hope for.
So blessed to be part of this amazing journey with the author.
Love-Glam-ma Mim
Profile Image for Chandra Claypool (WhereTheReaderGrows).
1,553 reviews319 followers
February 18, 2021
If you want a delectable young adult contemporary romance that will not only pierce your heart and get your salivary glands working overtime, but will also challenge your thinking and give readers more than just your typical romance... well, you'll want to eat this one right up.

Pen and Xander are our main characters and you immediately grow to love and root for each of them. Pen is dealing with familial expectations vs her own dreams and Xander is undocumented and looking for his father, who doesn't seem to want to be found. When their paths cross it sparks a multitude of changes for them both. Yes, we get the YAY LOVE moments, but this comes across through more than just this *unlikely* couple... the author brings us so so much more. Rather than just focusing on the two of them and their romantic journey, we also receive the loves of everyone else around them. Family, friends, the community in general... prepare to pick up your emotions at the end.

I think what resonated the most for me was just how real everything felt. Pen and Xander are relatable - oh the expectations our families put upon us and how hard it is to go against that. How difficult being invisible can feel even when we know we *have* to be. The emotional and mental challenges that come not only from the family within but also from the racial discrimination faced every day. LIFE. And we cannot forget to mention the food because YESSSSS. In general food is comforting and how families come together .. whether every evening, just on the holidays or whatever special occasion arises. I especially love that the romance part did come across more "organically" and without all the instalove we come to expect with YA.

Kemp has cooked us up a story full of flavor, humor, life lessons and the grit life throws at us.. which we can grind down and make into our own pearl... if we so choose.
Profile Image for Barbara Ixba.
55 reviews
July 18, 2020
Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laekan Zea Kemp is a story about finding love and expressing that love in unexpected and meaningful ways. This is a coming of age story for the 21st century. The characters are vibrant and relatable, and the storyline is engaging. I would highly recommend this book to my students.

I received an ARC of this work.
Profile Image for Hilda Burgos.
Author 4 books23 followers
January 30, 2021
Kemps' characters feel so real that you can't help but sit on the edge of your seat and root for them. A must-read!
Profile Image for BookNightOwl.
977 reviews177 followers
April 30, 2021
Pen is kicked out of her house and loses her job after her parents find out she stopped going to college. Pen realizes that if she wants to make her own choices she needs to find her own job and apartment.

The story deals with a lot of issues family, friends, immigration, police, bullies and more.

I liked the overall story and I really liked the characters but I found some of it to be a little cheesy and a little too convient. B+
Profile Image for kate.
1,149 reviews927 followers
November 9, 2021
3.5* An emotional love story portraying the love of family and romance in equal measures. Featuring hard-hitting discussions on mental illness (specifically depression and self-harm), being undocumented, complex family dynamics, this is a story filled with passion, food, fear, Latinx culture and community.

TW: discussion of self-harm, depression, anxiety, ICE, police brutality
Profile Image for Laura.
791 reviews55 followers
April 8, 2021
Penelope "Pen" Prado is a strong, fierce commanding presence at her father's restaurant. Everyone runs in fear of her but that is the image she projects to protect herself. She lies to her parents over a huge part of her life and they decide it's time she leaves the restaurant and their house. 

Xander starts work at the restaurant on her last day. He's drawn to her and he keeps finding himself next to her. His search for his father his whole life has him living with his Abuelo. The restaurant is under threat by a local loan shark since Nacho helps everyone out and that's not good for his business.

Pen can't see that the more her Father pushes her away from the restaurant, the more he's trying to shield and protect her. She's taking it inside and letting the depression pull her down, that she isn't good enough. It's so hard being a parent! Your make choices for your kids and you don't tell them why but there's always a reason to protect them. You don't want to fill their heads with all the junk out there. 

This is a coming of age romance between two people that don't feel they are good enough but have helped eachother find the beauty in each other. There is no steam which is totally fine I loved the way they stripped apart eachother souls, their "imperfections", insecurities and still loved what they say perhaps more so. 

TW: depression, talk of self harm, parent leaving, ICE.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐💫

Thank you @TheNovl for my gifted copy for my honest and voluntary review!
Profile Image for kim.
484 reviews41 followers
March 29, 2022
“But do you feel like it’s … you? Or do you feel like it’s who others want you to be?”

This question’s harder to answer. “I don’t know. Sometimes it feels like a choice, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it feels like the only weapon I have against being an outsider… and sometimes it feels like a weapon other people use against me.”

I’m prefacing this review by saying this cover is hot.

I’ll be real with you guys, I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would’ve. I’ve read a lot of books talking about immigrant kids and their problems, but this was really stood out from the bunch. Pen and Xander both had their own family and self-identity issues but they both contrasted in hers being centred on her future and his about his past while fearful for his future. I even liked the addition of Pen’s anxiety and the classic immigrant parent projection. Both of them were strong protagonists and I enjoyed reading their stories. My only critique is that more attention was given to Pen’s POV and problems so I would’ve loved more of Xander’s.

As a note, I also love all the food descriptions.

“What you’ve gotten yourself into is the most faithful and fucked up family you’ll ever meet.”
Profile Image for Leslie - Shobizreads.
531 reviews59 followers
February 15, 2021
Thanks to @librofm for the gifted audio listening copy of this book.

Fans of YA like With Fire on High, I'm Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter and We Are Not From Here will enjoy Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet.

This novel explores the story of undocumented immigrants in Austin, Texas. Penelope and Xander are brought together by working at a local restaurant, Nacho's Tacos. Pen's father owns Nacho's Tacos, where her older brother is the manager. In reality, Pen lives, eats and breathes Nacho's Tacos. She cares deeply about the restaurant, running it well and coming up with new recipes. When she comes clean with her parents about not going to nursing classes, they fire her from working at the restaurant and send her packing. Neither her mom or dad want her working at the restaurant long-term so they enforce some "tough love" sending her to find her own living and working situation.

Xander has been living with his abuelo for years as his dad disappeared and his mom left years and years ago. Despite his grandfather's care over the years, he is desperate to find his father. Xander isn't a legal immigrant, so when his status is threatened as well as his newfound "family" at Nacho's Tacos, he'll do whatever it takes to protect both.

This debut is all the feels exploring the coming-of-age stories of both Pen and Xander. It explores the courageous, loyal and family-oriented Chicanx community.

4.5 Stars

This releases April 6, 2021.
Profile Image for dovesnook.
471 reviews104 followers
August 5, 2022
On the floor. Staring at the ceiling. Feeling all the things. 👏👏👏🥹 full review to come xx
Profile Image for Mia.
2,237 reviews535 followers
July 24, 2021
3.5 stars

It's more coming of age story then romance but still I liked Pen and Xander together and as individuals but especially Xander.
Profile Image for Raquel.
672 reviews
May 4, 2021
This book was okay, but not for me. Telling it in present tense made it hard to provide any space for emotional reflection. I couldn't understand why Pen and Xander were initially attracted to each other apart from their physical proximity, which made it harder to invest in their nascent relationship. The author was touching on some big, important issues, like mental illness and being undocumented and searching for family, but she didn't spend enough time showing those and instead used up more real estate showing the inner workings of a restaurant staff. So there were plenty of scenes showing the staff misbehaving (to the point of redundancy), but not enough showing the emotional depth and complications that come with things like mental illness, being abandoned by your parents, separately, and being undocumented.

Additionally, this book's protagonists were out of high school, so it may be better to label this New Adult instead of YA.

There were some really standout scenes, especially when the author skewers the insidious ways racism is always around us. And I enjoyed the cooking scenes (more of those, they were great!). But even though I wanted to love Pen and Xander, and even though I knew what they wanted and what motivated them, I just couldn't connect emotionally with them, which was a bummer.
Profile Image for Tomes And Textiles.
247 reviews406 followers
July 15, 2021
You can find the book photo and review on TOMES AND TEXTILES.

“That’s how I’m going to survive this, by creating each day from scratch, starting with this one.” –Laekan Zea Kemp, Somewhere Between Bitter And Sweet
Somewhere Between Bitter And Sweet has less than 500 reviews on Goodreads & I truly wonder why this YA contemporary fiction isn’t on everyone’s TBR. It’s told in dual POV: Pen Prado, a baker who’s dream is to open a pasteleria, but when she confesses her life plans to her father, she is booted from home & her job at her family’s restaurant. She must make her way in the world after a hard landing. Pen keeps her ties to her parent’s restaurant, Nacho’s, while getting a job at their very inauthentic Mexican competitor. She meets Xander, who is also trying to find his way in the world for different reasons. This book is a love letter to anyone who has ever worked in the service industry, loves to cook or bake, & has ever found themselves struggling to get their lives together. Including a beautiful exploration of Mexican culture, immigrant communities and mental health.
I adored the story, but Laeken’s writing style really stood out me. I highlighted so many passages that today I’m going to try & convince you to add this book to your TBR using 7 quotes from the book.
“The things that scare us aren’t roadblocks but mirrors and bravery isn’t about shattering a reflection. It’s about having the strength to look.”
“That even without my family, without money, without knowing what’s coming next, maybe I can still be in control of something. I can still be myself.”
“My parents were wrong about me being made of stone. Everyone is. I’m not cold because I don’t feel anything. I’m this way because I feel everything.”
“What if there’s no such thing as being ready? What if the only difference between being ready and not being ready is a decision?”
“I’m fine. It’s what I’m supposed to say and just like everything else, if I pretend hard enough, maybe eventually it’ll be true.”
“That’s what I’ve learned about fear. Courage isn’t a currency and claiming it isn’t a game.”

For more book photos and reviews on TOMES AND TEXTILES.
Profile Image for Susan Ballard.
1,334 reviews53 followers
February 28, 2021
Penelope “Pen” Prado has big dreams. She works in her family’s restaurant, Nacho’s Tacos, but wants to open her own pasteleria one day. The problem is her parents want her to go to college.

Pen finally musters up the courage to tell her parents she hasn’t been going to classes, but she couldn’t have dreamed of their reaction. Her father fires her from the restaurant, the place where her heart lives.

As Pen is finishing her last shift, a new hire is being trained, Xander Amaro. Xander has been searching for his father who left him behind, claiming to try to make a better life for him here in the states. As Xander begins to feel like the Nacho’s Tacos crew is family, he worries that his immigration status is a danger to them.

Pen and Xander collide in a world of flavors, family, and fears in this story. But it’s not just their love story, their fierce determination, and the loyalty of family and friends shine through.

Kemp uses the sweet and savory aromas of food to beautifully tell an honest story of love and struggles within family, as well as, cultural struggles with discrimination.

Thank you to @librofm and @hachetteaudio for this #gifted audiobook.

Displaying 1 - 30 of 416 reviews

Join the discussion

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.