Gladys Gatsby loves to cook gourmet food. She’s been doing it in secret since she was seven years old, because her parents hate to cook and rely heavily on takeout and fast food. But a disastrous event with some creme brulee, a blowtorch, and the kitchen curtains blow her cover, and her parents forbid her from doing anything “adult” without parental supervision. Devastated, Gladys finds that her luck soon changes when an essay she wrote for a contest gets mistaken for a real restaurant review, and a famous newspaper contracts her to write for them. But it means getting to New York City without her parents knowing what she’s up to or the paper finding out that she’s really only 11, which seems impossible!
This delectable start to a series succeeds on many levels. The story has a strong-willed heroine who is both resourceful and unflappable, and her adventures require her to forge connections with other people in a way that this lonely girl has never had to before. This part of the story feels very realistic and is heartwarming. Also lovely is Gladys’s love of cooking and food. The descriptions of meals she’s made and eaten is fun for any lover of food and works well within the context of the story.
There’s also a lot of humor to be found here, which is nice. There are some nice characters to be found within the book’s pages, specifically when it comes to her next door neighbors and her Parisian aunt, but there are also characters who fall totally flat, including Gladys’s parents, who seem both cartoonish and one-dimensional. There is an enormous amount of suspension of disbelief required to believe they could be so obtuse, and it upsets the book’s narrative and diminishes the charm a bit.
Even so, it’s a fun read that will attract middle grade readers looking for books about loners with peculiar hobbies, and there’s plenty of fun to be found in its pages. There’s plenty of delicious foods mentioned in the book that could translate to learning to cook in real life. Despite some obvious plotting, it’s overall very enjoyable and the start of an interesting series.
All Four Stars by Tara Daiman. Putnam: 2015. Library copy.