Here’s a treat for you today. Are you ready to discover a whole bunch of books on an urban theme that you might not have noticed but really should check out? Welcome to BOOK CITY, a one day, one shot tour of titles that showcase city living. The tour lineup can be found here, at Colleen’s blog. But start right here, with this book:
Can fortune cookies change a neighborhood for the better? In Lisa Greenwald’s Sweet Treats & Secret Crushes they can, and I’m volunteering to test out the concept on my street some day soon. I’d like to believe that there are cities where neighbors you just sort of recognize but don’t really know yet could show up on your doorstep with a homemade treat and you’d be delighted, rather than weirded out. While this notion might seem too-good-to-be-true for many jaded urbanites, I think kids will buy into it. Plus, I do believe cookies can bring people together, and a fortune cookie, with its extra element of surprise wisdom seems as likely a candidate for bringing people together as any cookie I can think of.
Best friends Olivia, Kate, and Georgia are seventh-graders who live on the seventh floor of the same Brooklyn apartment building. They’ve been friends forever, but lately their friendship hasn’t been as simple as it used to be. Georgia has a secret she doesn’t want to share. Kate thinks she knows what’s right for everyone and doesn’t hold back on sharing her opinions. Olivia can’t seem to break out of her role as an observer and take the first step when it comes to her longtime megacrush. A Valentine’s Day blizzard and resulting snow day leads the girls to create a plan to distribute homemade fortune cookies all through their building. They’re wondering if this simple idea will mend their friendship issues and help them to make their building more like one big home, where people choose to step out of their apartments and get to know one another.
First off, a book with a cooking focus gets immediate points for me. I like stories that explore how creating yummy food brings people together and just generally makes life better. And fortune cookies? Who doesn’t love them? (Even those stale-tasting ones you sometimes get with Chinese take-out. My sister and I used to fight tooth and nail for the last one in the bag). I admit I was really surprised not to find a recipe and instructions for do-it-yourself fortune cookies at the back of Greenwald’s book. Book club party + fortune cookie making = happiness, right? Never fear! Here is a link that will satisfy any would-be cookie makers.
The dynamic between the girls was believable and sweet. I see Middle Grade girls everyday, and I’ve noticed how friends can be close and comfortable with one another at one moment and then sometimes the next minute they seem awkward and unsure around each other. At times I found it difficult to distinguish between the characters, which can be a deal-breaker for me in a book with more than one narrator, but the three voices stood apart well enough so as not to be overly frustrating. In general I’d like to have seen greater complexity in the characters. The characterization of the central players stayed more or less on the surface level, but I liked meeting the many other residents of the building and Greenwald succeeded in making each one of the people the girls encountered interesting enough that you cared to know more about them.
I think this book is perfect for a Middle Grade girls’ book club. It’s squeaky clean and it focuses on things so many girls care about at that age: friends, first crushes, and making stuff. It’s also about discovering independence and confidence and it sure paints city life as being full of possibility in the way that it allows for so many people’s lives to intersect and influence others.
Greenwald’s book gives us reason to hope that cookies could be powerful community builders and friendship savers, and that where we live and the relationships we create might be strengthened if we took a crazy chance every so often and reached out to the people around us.
With that in mind, I have a recipe to share that is very much in the spirit of this fun read. May I present: World Peace Cookies. Go forth, make cookies, make friends.
Sweet Treats & Secret Crushes is published by Amulet Books.