Friday, April 09, 2021

Guy Friday- The King of Jam Sandwiches and Notes from a Young Black Chef

Walters, Eric. The King of Jam Sandwiches
September 22nd 2020 by Orca Book Publishers
Library Copy

Robbie's mother died when he was young, and his father's moods are erratic. Sometimes things are fine, but other times he father lapses into deep depression, and sometimes leaves Robbie home by himself. There's plenty of food in the basement, since the father is concerned about preparing for the worst, and by eighth grade, Robbie is able to do his own laundry, cook, sign paper's with his "father's" signature, and generally take care of himself. Part of his coping strategy is just lying low and staying off of everyone's radar. He has some friends, but they don't really kno much about his life. When he is assigned to show a new girl around school, they get off to a rocky start, with Harmony punching him in the face. He's so surprised that he doesn't tell on her, which intrigues her. Harmony is in foster care because her mother struggles with drug and alcohol addiction. She's been in several placements, but her mother cleans up her act, gets custody of Harmony again, and then gets sucked back into her addiction, repeating the cycle. Robbie shares his sandwiches with her, but finds out that her current placement is treating her fairly well, at which point she starts to share her lunch with him. When Harmony's mother leaves rehab, she's determined to go and find her, and Robbie reluctantly goes with her. They locate her mother at a bar, and a man whose own mother struggled with addiction helps them get her back to rehab and get home. Robbie's father still pays little attention to him, and when he leaves again, Robbie thinks that it may be time to call his aunt and uncle to see if they can help him. Harmony and Robbie understand each other's situation, and help each other navigate the difficult waters of adolescence in a way that their other friends would never understand. 
Strengths: Robbie and Harmony both face their difficulties with a constructive outlook, and work to better their own circumstances even though they are certainly suffering through them. Robbie's a good kid, because that way, fewer people pay attention to him. He does well in school, and his teachers encourage him. Harmony is a good foil for this; her experiences have been more difficult, and she is much angrier. They are an unlikely pair, which makes their connection even more interesting. There was a lot of good information about how foster care works, and it was good to see Harmony with a family who took good care of her and were understanding about her acting out. I'm not usually a fan of epilogues, but I was glad to have a brief one describing what the two did after making it through high school. 
Weaknesses: This is available in a prebind from Follett, but does not seem to have been published in a hardcover format. It's such a good story that I would love to have a jacketed hardcover. 
What I really think: I purchased this one without reading it, since my public library didn't have it. Walters is such a good author that I knew this would be a book my students will love. While my students aren't a huge fan of sad books, there is a certain Boxcar Children vibe that they do like-- Robbie and Harmony must make their own way in the world with minimal help from adults, in the same way that the Boxcar Children do. It's sad that this is based on Walters' own life, but certainly makes for an effective story.

Onwuachi, Kwame and Stein, Joshua David. Notes from a Young Black Chef: A Memoir 
April 9th 2019 by Knopf Publishing Group
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Starting from the eve of his opening the Shaw Bijou restaurant in D.C. when he was catering an event at the National Museum of African American History and Culture and flashing back to his childhood, Onwuachi offers an unflinching look at how his varied upbringing and the racism he faced shaped his career path. Born NYC in 1989 to a Nigerian American father and a mother with a Southern food background, young Kwame had difficulties. His father was demanding, and his parents often fought. He struggled to get along in school, and at the age of ten was sent to Nigeria for two years to live with his grandfather and his two wives. Back in the US two years later, his mother started a catering business and struggled to keep him in a private Catholic school. After he was kicked out of school his senior year because of pranks, he fell in with a gang and dealt some drugs. After getting accepted to the University of Bridgeport, he found that selling alcohol and drugs was still a good side hustle, but eventually decided to focus on a career in cooking, given his rich family background in cooking. With a lot of hard work, as well as some lucky breaks, Onwuachi was able to overcome difficulties and racism to become a national culinary star with media appearances and several restaurants.
Strengths: There is definitely a need for more #OwnVoices narratives that address the difficulties that affect the BIPOC community, and Onwuachi's story is an interesting one. The food descriptions are fantastic, and made me want to investigate a lot of the food mentioned in the book. The story moves along quickly, and the fact that Onwuachi is raised in the US and then spends time in Nigeria will speak to a lot of my students, who sometimes go back and forth between countries. The cover will make this one that will intrigue readers who have an interest in cooking. 
Weaknesses: As a parent and educator, it was a little worrisome to see a young person engaged in dangerous, illegal behavior without spectacularly bad consequences, but Onwuachi has certainly done well for himself. 
What I really think: I have Marcus Samuelsson's Make It Messy(2015), that I've struggled to get checked out. He's one of Onwuachi's inspirations. I'll see if there is an interest in that book before getting this new one. I don't buy very many autobiographies or memoirs; I usually wait until a person has passed away before buying biographies. That way they don't become dated and need to be replaced. 

No comments:

Post a Comment