Book Review: North of Happy by Adi Alsaid

 

Reviewed by Cecilia Cackley

North of Happy CoverDESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Carlos Portillo has always led a privileged and sheltered life. A dual citizen of Mexico and the US, he lives in Mexico City with his wealthy family, where he attends an elite international school. Always a rule follower and a parent pleaser, Carlos is more than happy to tread the well-worn path in front of him. He has always loved food and cooking, but his parents see it as just a hobby.

When his older brother, Felix—who has dropped out of college to live a life of travel—is tragically killed, Carlos begins hearing his brother’s voice, giving him advice and pushing him to rebel against his father’s plan for him. Worrying about his mental health, but knowing the voice is right, Carlos runs away to the United States and manages to secure a job with his favorite celebrity chef. As he works to improve his skills in the kitchen and pursue his dream, he begins to fall for his boss’s daughter—a fact that could end his career before it begins. Finally living for himself, Carlos must decide what’s most important to him and where his true path really lies.

MY TWO CENTS: I thought this was a very balanced book—the romance is sweet, while Carlos’ grief and struggle to assert himself adds depth, and the setting of the restaurant is fresh and engaging. It was also refreshing to read a book about a Mexican character that isn’t about immigration, drug wars, or poverty. My favorite parts of the book were the descriptions of Carlos cooking and his thought process as he selects ingredients or puts together a dish. Some readers may find this too detailed or dense, but (perhaps because I don’t spend a lot of time cooking in my life) I was fascinated. Emma’s character occasionally slid toward Manic Pixie Dream Girl territory, but I thought the decision she makes toward the end of the book was good and believable. The side characters were entertaining, and I liked the fact that there was no manufactured drama among the kitchen staff. Envy and hazing happened, but it wasn’t over the top.

The element of the book most likely to divide opinions is probably the character of Felix and what, exactly, he is doing there. Is he a hallucination, and should the book be talking more candidly about mental illness? Is he a ghost or a spirit, guiding Carlos toward a better life? I lean toward the spirit answer, perhaps because it brings the book a little closer to the genre of magical realism, which I enjoy. Although there are a few moments when Carlos considers the idea that the things he hears Felix say “…might just be grief doing strange things to my head,” he accepts the idea that his brother is sticking with him in ghost form pretty easily. Their relationship provides a lot of comedy, as Felix makes smart remarks, and pushes Carlos out of his comfort zone. For me, this points to the character being a supernatural or spiritual element, rather than a hallucination.

I enjoyed the way Spanish was incorporated into the book, not just spoken by Carlos but also various people he meets, and that it was left unitalicized. Altogether, this was a fun read, and it’s guaranteed to make you hungry so have a snack ready.

TEACHING TIPS: I think this would be a good book to read as part of a survey course, because it’s a good example of the variety found in the YA category. It’s a good choice for a teen book club, with lots to discuss and debate. This would be a great book to read for a potluck book club or as an addition to a middle or high school cooking club.

WHERE TO GET IT: To find North of Happy, check your local public library, your local bookstore, or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

Image resultABOUT THE AUTHOR: Adi Alsaid was born and raised in Mexico City. He attended college at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. After graduating, he packed up his car and escaped to the California coastline to become a writer. He’s now back in his hometown, where he writes, coaches high school and elementary basketball, and makes every dish he eats as spicy as possible. In addition to Mexico, he’s lived in Tel Aviv, Las Vegas and Monterey, California. He is the author of Let’s Get Lost, Never Always Sometimes, and North of Happy.

 

 

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Cecilia Cackley is a performing artist and children’s bookseller based in Washington, DC, where she creates puppet theater for adults and teaches playwriting and creative drama to children. Her bilingual children’s plays have been produced by GALA Hispanic Theatre and her interests in bilingual education, literacy, and immigrant advocacy all tend to find their way into her theatrical work. You can find more of her work at www.witsendpuppets.com.

5 comments on “Book Review: North of Happy by Adi Alsaid

  1. I found it very interesting that there are so many books that included Latino characters. I had the chance of reading a book called North of Happy from Barnes and Nobles. I feel as though this book would be most appropriate for middle school children because there is some light romance involved. I find it interesting that this books wasn’t a book that dealt with typical issues associated with Mexican character like drugs, narcos, and poverty. This was a very refreshing book because it showed that there are some upper class Mexicans too who live in Mexico. I really like the character Carlos because I feel like he is a strong character. He was able to leave his family and go to the United States in order to pursue his dream. I know how hard it is to leave family behind because when I came to the United States I left most of my family behind too. While battling the grief of his brother’s death, the author Carlos doesn’t let that get In the way of his passion of cooking. He managed to get a job working with one of most professional chef and made strong relationships along the way, including with the chefs daughter Emma. I also thought it was nice that the book included a little bit of Spanish to help the readers learn some phrases. I learned a couple of phrases that I will surely use when meeting Spanish speakers. I also really like the illustration of the book because the colors were very vivid. This was a great refreshing book and I would recommend it to everyone.

  2. Wow! The review of this book has left me wanting to read more. It is refreshing to see new books with latinx characters in them, whereas the reviewer mentioned there is no poverty or immigration involved. It is nice to shed light to that once in a while, but as a community, we are much more than that. Even though I am not Mexican, I can see myself being portrayed in this book so much. You can tell this book has universal themes that many people could relate to on a personal level such as mental health. The way our society has grown and even the Latinx community, we have evolved to the idea of actually acknowledging that mental health is an issue we need to address. Also, this can address to many parents out there to let their children do what they want once they get older and not have them choose their career. It will take a toll on the family and the child. It also talks about death and how people grieve in many different ways. This is a book that is definitely going to be on my reading list!

  3. This is a very interesting book. As soon as they mention the characters are from a Mexican background it grabbed my attention. It is very hard to find books that involve the hispanic culture. I,myelf, coming from a Mexican heritage,I always like to see how authors and writers portray the culture in their storyline. I feel it is very important to give facts more than opinions. It is why it breaks my heart when they reviewed this book title, the first thing they say about Mexican culture is bad influences. They portray Mexican Culture to be this drug lord, illegals, and poor culture. When in fact we have so much more to offer. The love story and wanting to be a chef brings warmth and allows for a more powerful connection with the readers. It had ideas and topics that shows students that anything is possible. An tragic moment, reaching for your dreams and goals, and listening to one’s parents are real situations that makes a person strong. It defines who they are and this book is a perfect example to help a student who could possibly be going through something similar as the main character. I know I can connect on many ways since I come from the same background.

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  5. Pingback: 2017 Titles By/For/About Latinx!! | Latinxs in Kid Lit

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