Like most middle grade stories, this one is, at its core, a coming of age story. The setting is a restaurant, La Cocina de la Isla and the community it belongs to. At the heart of this tale is a boy and his grandmother.
Arturo is a thirteen year old almost seventh grader whose summer just got turned upside down. First, there is the cute girl who is visiting his family for the summer. She makes his stomach bubble in a way Arturo has never felt before. There is just one problem: she’s his mother’s goddaughter which makes her a cousin. And even though he thinks she is one of those cousins who isn’t really a cousin, he isn’t exactly sure.
This cute girl isn’t the only newcomer in Arturo’s town though. A developer has also just arrived and he wants to build a bigger, brighter, bolder (and extremely expensive to live in) community high rise. And he wants to do it by getting rid of La Cocina de la Isla, the restaurant Arturo’s Cuban grandmother opened nineteen years earlier.
But Arturo’s abuela (grandmother) is sick and not able to fight for the restaurant she loves, which means Arturo has to do it for her.
He has a little bit of help. The bubbly stomach girl, his cousins (the real and the not really ones), his aunts and uncles, his grandfather-or at least his grandfather’s letters, and the poetry of Jose Marti-a nineteenth century Cuban revolutionary. Now, if he can only get through to the city council, the community, and the bubbly stomach girl, maybe his attempts to save the his abuela’s restaurant built won’t end in massive (epic) failure.
I really enjoyed this book. The family Cartaya created is fully realized and lovingly steeped in Cuban tradition. Arturo’s problems may be epic, but he definitely won’t fall without being caught by numerous hands. The story line was slightly predictable, but Cartaya uses that predictability to reinforce a message that we all need to hear: It takes risks to win, and sometimes we lose, but love always holds us together.