Estelle: The Secret Ingredient by Stewart Lewis

The Secret Ingredient by Stewart LewisThe Secret Ingredient by Stewart Lewis ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: June 11, 2013
Publisher: Delacorte (Random House)
Pages: 256
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: adoption, cooking, family, summer
Format read: Paperback ARC from Shanyn. Thanks!

Summary: Olive has a great family — two days that love her and a brother, Jeremy, who might not always do the right thing but he always has her back. But she’s starting to feel like something is missing — will finding her birth mother be that thing? Or is it Theo, the boy who returns with his own secrets?

Last year, I sat curled up at a hotel pool reading You Have Seven Messages. I fell hard for Stewart Lewis’ lyrical prose. So it was with great anticipation that I started The Secret Ingredient.

I love how Lewis has created another old soul character in Olive, a master chef in her own kitchen and her dad’s restaurant before she has even graduated high school. She’s insightful and loyal, as she wades through the many unknowns in her life: who is her real mom? Will her dad lose his beloved restaurant? What about their home? She has a lot on her plate, so to speak. But the confidence she has in her family unit does shine through, even during the rough, quiet moments. Another Lewis signature touch is the closeness of the siblings. Despite their different bloodlines, I really liked how Jeremy and Olive related to one another even though their goals were so different. They didn’t tiptoe around the other when they were unhappy with each other’s choices, and still showed such solidarity and affection.

I’ll be honest, I’m a little jealous of how easy Olive can whip together delicious dishes. She finds apples and black beans and makes burritos, friends. It’s like magic! Why can’t I do this? I think a character like Olive can teach us a lot of things. How confident some people can be in some areas, and how it takes some time to catch up in others. Just how observant a character can be about the world. And when it comes to finding her mom, she’s not entirely honest with her Dads, but she also doesn’t go in hoping for a happily ever after either. She’s a realist.

Trips to Laguna Beach, a great moments with her best pal, Lola, the story of an old cookbook, and a sweet romance with the mysterious Theo swirl in and out of The Secret Ingredient, and all add up to a summer of discovery and lots of imagination for Olive. Once again, Lewis has caused me to fall in love with another multi-dimensional and intelligent character. And this story? It felt so fast-paced even though I worked to enjoy every single word. It was just as good as one of Olive’s masterpiece dinners.

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P.S. Did you know they were making a movie of this book during the summer?