Top positive review
A compelling coming-of-age literary novel
Reviewed in the United States on August 19, 2016
I loved this book, really loved it, but it isn't for everybody. Unfortunately, there are many negative reviews by readers who never should have read or tried to read this book, and it is the fault of the publisher. In boldface on the Amazon page: "A thrilling novel of the senses...Perfect for readers of Kitchen Confidential and Blood, Bones and Butter." Ummm, no. This book is nothing at all like those books - if anything, it is more closely related to Salinger's Catcher in the Rye.
What this book is not:
It is not an inside look into the secrets of Union Square Cafe, one of Manhattan's top restaurants. The protagonist isn't ever in the kitchen. Also, it is not a "small-town girl struggles with the big city but stays true to herself so she can conquer her career and get the dreamy guy" book. It is definitely not a beach read.
What this book is:
An exceptionally well-written story of a smart but very troubled woman struggling to establish a life and make personal connections, and mostly failing. She comes of age the hard way, taking her lumps brought on by bad decisions and a toxic environment. She lacks the family support many take for granted, and her loneliness is expressed on almost every page. The pain and dysfunction are so intimately rendered, I would be shocked if the author didn't live much of it herself.
Some reviewers have criticized the lack of development of supporting characters, notably the love interest, Jake. This may be a valid critique, but I am going to argue that this may by intentional by the author. A central struggle in this book is the narrator's inability to form true, enduring interpersonal connections that extend beyond the moment, despite her desperation to do just that. The secondary characters are seen through the narrator's eyes, she never gets to see their hidden selves. The aren't well developed because they never let her in.
Some reviewers have also complained that there are no likable characters. If you need a hero protagonist who does always the right thing, this is not the book for you - this a grown-up book with realistic people, who (gasp!) make bad decisions. There are multiple accounts of drug use and sex, and if reading about that upsets you, then this won't be for you. But this is not a book about drugs or sex, and both appear realistically, not gratuitously.
Not every book is for every person. I loved this book, and will be thinking about it for a long time.