PLEASE READ ON A FULL STOMACH.
THIS BOOK WILL MAKE YOU HUNGRY FOR DELICIOUS
AND WELL-PREPARED WEST INDIAN FOOD!
You’d think I’d have heeded the warning. It was after all big and bold at the top of the press release and reiterated on both the inside cover AND back cover of “Stir It Up!“, the first tween novel from food writer Ramin Ganeshram (author of Sweet Hands, a perennial bestseller here on Trinigourmet).
You’d think I wouldn’t have dismissed it as typical PR hyperbole, but I did. Curled up one evening, under the covers, determined not to procrastinate this review any longer, I wasn’t more than a few pages in before I felt my stomach start to growl. Half an hour in and the vivid descriptions of teenaged Anjali Krishnan’s life, working in her father’s New York City roti shop, melded to create a kind of heavenly culinary torture.
“I slide into the cafeteria seat next to Linc and reach into my knapsack for my lunch. Leftovers from last night’s pilau, a rice and bean dish with chicken and pieces of pumpkin… The chicken is so tender it’s practically in shreds. The rice is fluffy but not sticky. The whole thing is good and spicy. I have to drink a lot of water while I eat it. But it’s comfort food. Real good.”
Narrated through the eyes of young Anjali “Stir It Up!” takes us into a world where the hopes and dreams of a first-generation American clashes with the Old World ideals of her immigrant parents. The youngest in a multi-generational household, Anjali’s dearest wish is to become a television chef (on the Food Network no less!). When an opportunity presents itself for her to realize her dream she makes a decision which dramatically alters the course of her life.
As she navigates the expectations of her family, and weighs them against the stirrings of her own passion for food, she lends voice to a generational clash which occurs not just with Caribbean-American children, but newer generations in their own home islands as well. Ganeshram handles this conflict, and the interplay of gender roles, with a deft light hand. Raising it for the reader’s consideration without allowing it to weigh down the narrative.
A page turner from beginning to end, “Stir It Up!” raises the anté by interspersing recipes for dishes Anjali prepares at pivotal points in the story. This not only helps to bring her to life, but also gives young foodies a chance to walk in her shoes. For Caribbean parents who wish to hand down much loved culinary traditions the gift of this book should make that goal even easier. I was pleased to see that the selections ranged from such old comforts as Aloo Pies and Coconut Sweet Bread (mercifully sans mixed peel) to the new and daring such as Coconut Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies and Trini-Style Salmon Sushi Rolls.
Classified as “Middle Grade Fiction”, “Stir It Up!” is aimed towards readers 11-14. I suggest however that foodies 15 and up, yes even adults, should give this book a look if they want to indulge in nostalgia or experience a taste of another culture where the recipes exist not in a vacuum, but in the context of actual believable day-to-day life.
Ultimately it’s this seamless integration of youthful awakening, culture, and cuisine that places “Stir It Up!” in a unique and invaluable position as a piece of contemporary Caribbean youth fiction. My main concern is that because it may be seen as such a niche market publication it will be overlooked by a wider audience of parents and foodies who I believe would enjoy it wholeheartedly as well. That would be a real shame.
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