Source: Random House – I received this book in exchange for an honest review. I received no compensation.
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Edition: Hardcover, 241 pages
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Purchase: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Book Depository*
*I receive a small monetary kickback from Amazon purchases
Sixteen-year-old Olivia loves living in Silverlake, Los Angeles, with her dads, Bell and Enrique, and her brother, Jeremy. But when Olivia discovers that Bell’s restaurant, FOOD, is in trouble, she applies for a job at a casting agency. The day of her interview, Olivia meets a psychic in an elevator who tells her that this summer will be pivotal. Soon after, Olivia stumbles upon a vintage cookbook with handwritten notes in the margins and starts to date a gorgeous boy named Theo. As Olivia reads the notes in the cookbook and cooks the recipes, she forms a kinship with the previous owner and becomes increasingly aware of the emptiness she feels without a mother. When Olivia discovers her birthmother’s name and address, there’s nothing to stop Olivia from meeting her. But sometimes the things we search for are the things we’ve always known.
The Secret Ingredient is the story of a single summer in young Olivia’s life, a summer where things start to change. Olivia is beginning to feel like she’s missing something and she’s certain it’s her birthmother. Her fathers, Bell and Enrique, are struggling to make do with their slowly failing restaurant and her brother Jeremy is kind of a dreamer. The Secret Ingredient is the perfect summer time read; it’s short, sweet, has a touch of romance, and a ton of self discovery. Just make sure you have snacks handy, because this one is sure to make you hungry.
Olivia Reese is a incredibly sweet sixteen year old girl who puts her family first and it’s not until she gets a little push that she starts trying to do things for herself. She’s also an incredible cook and that’s where she finds her peace, and believe me…the food she makes in this sounds utterly amazing. The family unit in SI is really important to the story and the best part for me is that her parents are actually great parents, none of that typical YA horrid or absent parent nonsense here. Bell and Enrique have their issues and they have a lot of stress on them but they really try and thanks to a few flashbacks you get a good idea of how they raised Olivia and Jeremy. I suppose my only complaint is that I wish I could see more of those instances. Lola is Olivia’s best friend and while we didn’t get a ton of back story for her she really does seem like a wonderful best friend who is willing to stand by Olivia no matter what. Then there is Theo, the boy with the surprisingly sweet heart and big dreams. I really liked him, he seemed really sweet and at sixteen he’s incredibly responsible. He really encourages Olivia is realize her dreams and I thought he was a great addition to her already large support system. I did not like where their relationship ended up though, it felt a bit off or incomplete. Though I suppose technically it is since the story only covers one story of her whole life and realistically everything would not fall into place, but still it was a bit of let down.
The overall plot is a quick and filled with life’s ups and downs that Olivia has to find a way to navigate. I think she does better than simply navigate the troubled waters though, she really puts her best foot forward and works to do what she can to better both her situation and that of her friends and family. She also discovers quite a bit about herself as she searches for her birthmother and I liked that she grew as a person. The romance is really cute and put a smile on my face, and the cooking parts had me reading in the kitchen. (Seriously…I read most of this while in my kitchen so I could grab stuff to eat easier). My only real big issue was the fact that there was a lot of telling and not a lot of feeling, it didn’t really balance out and while I enjoyed the story quite a bit I didn’t find my self connected to the characters as much as a I wanted to be. It’s not an extremely deep novel but it did get me thinking about how people can take seemingly small things for granted, but when you lose them you realize just how big it was.
If you’re looking for a book to keep you company while you sit out in the sun and relax then The Secret Ingredient just might be for you.