Sunday, December 10, 2023

With or Without You

Smith, Eric. With or Without You
November 7, 2023 by Inkyard Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Both the Plazas family and the Ortiz family have had a lot of upheaval lately. Jordan Plazas is still sad that his family lost their diner and his parents have to work at other restaurants now, but he takes solace in the Philly cheesesteak food truck they still run. His plan, now that he has graduated, is to go on the road for a year. He's like to bring along Cindy Ortiz, his girlfriend, but there's a problem; the two have to keep their relationship secret. Cindy's family lost their urban farm in Boston and have set up a food truck near the Plazas', but it serves more organic, healthier fare. The two have fabricated a long standing, contentious rivalry between the two trucks that seems to bring them a lot of customers. There is some history between the families; the Ortiz's outbid the Plazas for their parking spot, and there's some thought they may have outbid Jordan's family on the truck they use as well. Cindy would like to go back to Boston, especially since her two best friends are there, but was waitlisted for her college of choice. She would like to study television production, and is so interested in reality shows that she and her friends have a podcast that discussions a reality show set in Boston. When Jordan wants to enter a food truck competition, things start to get hectic, and the family rivalry starts to heat up for real. When the families are approached to do a reality television series called Cheesesteak Wars based on the fabricated fighting, things start to get weird. Long standing grievances are unearthed, financial secrets bubble to the surface, and Jordan and Cindy realize that they might not share the same visions for the coming year. Will their relationship survive? 
Strengths: I'm always looking for young adult romances that are relatable to middle grade readers, and this is a good mix of details about running food trucks, family dynamics, and planning for a post high school future that will still appeal to readers who are not quite ready to think about leaving home. The representation of families dealing with financial difficulties is good to see, and there's a lot of vivid local flavor and descriptions of cheesesteaks. (Didn't know these were so contentious. Don't know that I've ever had one.) I know many people like the "enemies to lovers" trope, and this puts a nice twist on that. There's plenty of things going on with the competition, family finances, and plans for the coming year to keep readers turning the pages. 
Weaknesses: This wasn't that much of a romance book. There's a  nice date in a book store, but most of the time is spent arguing and worrying about the future instead of enjoying the moment. That definitely makes it Young Adult; middle grade romances are much more fun! Additionally, my complaint with many middle grade books is that we should be encouraging more needed occupations like medical and technical positions rather than journalism and cupcake baking. There are probably already enough teens who want to run food trucks and host podcasts. 
What I really think: Food trucks are starting to have quite a number of options! Middle grade books include Borba's The Midnight Brigade , Badua's The Takeout, Torres' Stef Soto, Taco Queen, and Downing's The Great Peach Experiment series. Nelson's You're Bacon Me Crazy was more middle grade, but adapted into a movie with more adult characters, and Goo's The Way You Make Me Feel has a similar feel. Next, we might need to discuss YA books with titles based on 1980s songs! 

Ms. Yingling

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