Tuesday, August 9, 2016

book review: Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

The basics:  "Twenty-two, and knowing no one, Tess leaves home to begin her adult life in New York City. Thus begins a year that is both enchanting and punishing, in a low-level job at “the best restaurant in New York City.” Grueling hours and a steep culinary learning curve awaken her to the beauty of oysters, the finest Champagnes, the appellations of Burgundy. At the same time, she opens herself to friendships—and love—set against the backdrop of dive bars and late nights."--publisher

My thoughts: I am not often a reader who makes much of first lines. I don't know if that's a trait unique to me, or a result that the first lines of books I read aren't remarkably good or bad. But when I started Sweetbitter, I read the first paragraph, put the book down, added it to my favorite passages, and texted it to Mr. Nomadreader:
"You will develop a palate.
 A palate is a spot on your tongue where you remember. Where you assign words to the textures of taste. Eating becomes a discipline, language-obsessed. You will never simply eat food again."

Would you believe me if I told you it only got better from there? It's true. The first sentences cement Danler as a food writer, but while this is indeed a novel foodies will adore, it is so much more. To call it a coming of age novel is to sell it incredibly short. This novel isn't one just for foodies or those seeking a coming of age tale. It's a Great American Novel. Or a Great Novel. It's accessible, but literary. It's fun but has depth of language and emotion. It's astonishingly good, and I look forward to rereading it frequently.

Favorite passage:  "It’s an epidemic with women your age. A gross disparity between the way that they speak and the quality of thoughts that they’re having about the world. They are taught to express themselves in slang, in clich├ęs, sarcasm—all of which is weak language. The superficiality of the language colors the experiences, rendering them disposable instead of assimilated. And then to top it all, you call yourselves ‘girls.’"

The verdict: Sweetbitter is one of those rare books I wanted to spend every moment reading, but I never wanted it to end. Danler both transported me to the New York City restaurant world and into a deeply authentic emotional, personal place. To do one is a success; to do both is a triumph. Sweetbitter is one of my favorite books of 2016, and it's a rare title I'll recommend to both dedicated readers and those who make time for a book or two a year.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 368 pages
Publication date: May 24, 2016
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Sweetbitter from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

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  1. I have heard really good things about this book. I put a hold on it at the library.

  2. Great review. I think this book is on my 'ToRead' list, but after reading your review, I'm going to double check. It sounds fabulous!


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