Saturday, February 18, 2023

Lasagna Means I Love You

O'Shaughnessy, Kate. Lasagna Means I Love You
February 21st 2023 by Alfred A. Knopf
E ARC provided by

When Mo's grandmother, Nan, passes away, there is  no one to take care of her. Her father was never in the picture, her mother passed away when she was younger, and her Uncle Billy is in the military and is not willing to give up his career and livelihood to care for her. She thinks briefly about asking her best friend Crystal's family to take her in, but knows this is unlikely. She ends up in the foster care system with a good case manager, Moira, and a seemingly wonderful foster family. June and Tate are young professionals who live in a fancy apartment building with a doorman, Joe. They want the best for Mo but don't understand everything about her, including her desire to travel an hour away to keep attending her old school. They do try, and arrange for a car to take her every day. They also support her efforts to cook; since Nan and Uncle Billy were not great in the kitchen, Mo longs for a family recipe of her own. She starts a web site, and asks strangers for family recipes. She gets a few e mails from her postings, and has a lot of fun making the recipes that are sent to her. Crystal helps her with the photography, and Crystal's grandmother helps Mo make dumplings. What Mo wants most is a family recipe, and a family connection, of her own. When a reporter for the New York Times features Mo in an article, she thinks that she has found a family member, but it turns out not to be. She still hopes that more news coverage will help her find a relative, but has to do something newsworthy in order for the reporter to cover her again. She still misses her gran (the entire book is written as journal entries/letters to her grandmother), and gets along with Tate and June. It's not perfect, but June was also in foster care and is understanding when Mo has moments of sadness and acts out. She even convinces Mo to see Dr. Barb for therapy, even though Nan was against it. She connects more with Joe and his wife Carlotta, who watch her one weekend, and they are instrumental in helping her set up a pop up restaurant of family recipes so that the reporter writes another story. When Tate and June have complications arise, it looks like a distant cousin of her grandmother's is willing to be her guardian, and Mo resigns herself to moving away from New York in order to be with her, even though they don't really connect. Will her pop up restaurant help her find a way to stay in the city she loves?
Strengths: There are a fair number of students in foster care at my school, and I assume it's the same in many other places. It's a fine line to show the problems and the positive aspects of this experience in a realistic way. Having never personally experienced any aspect of foster care, it's interesting to read about. It's good that Mo has an interest, and that her friends and foster parents help her pursue it. The look into the privileged life in New York City that June and Tate provide was rather fascinating. Mo's desire to connect with family members, or to find family recipes, will appeal to readers who like to cook, and social media is fascinating to middle grade readers. There are ups and downs, and Mo has some troubles weathering them, but she has a supportive team. 
Weaknesses: I personally cringe when characters in books find instant online followings or get interviewed by the New York Times. I've been blogging for seventeen years and still have very few followers. (Many thanks to all two dozen of you!) I also could see the resolution of Mo's problems coming a mile away. To be very clear: middle grade readers will not mind either of these things, and I did enjoy reading the book. 
What I really think: This felt a lot like McClain's 2011 Sizzle and a little like Mackler's Not if I Can Help It, due to the New York Setting, and offers a realistic yet  upbeat look at foster care along the lines of Farr's Pavi Sharma's Guide to Going Home or Bauer's Raising Lumie. Check your collection; if you still hae a copy of Byar's The Pinballs, weed that and get some of these newer titles! The cover on this one is particularly good and begs to be displayed with Nails' One Hundred Spaghetti Strings!
 Ms. Yingling

No comments:

Post a Comment