Contemporary (YA) | Mental Health (YA) | Romance (YA) | Young Adult fiction

Book Review: Pen & Xander by Laekan Zea Kemp

1. February 2018


Contemporary/Romance/Young Adult/Mental Health

Pen Prado has a passion for cooking. Specifically, cooking her father’s food in her father’s restaurant. It’s the heart of their immigrant neighborhood, a place where everyone belongs, and second chances are always on the menu. Except for Pen. Despite the fact that there’s something almost magic about her food, her father can’t imagine anything worse than her following in his footsteps. And when Pen confesses to keeping a secret from her family, he fires her, ensuring she never will.

Xander Amaro is undocumented but that doesn’t stop Ignacio Prado from offering him a job at his restaurant. For Xander, it’s a chance to make amends and to sever his toxic relationship with the druglord, El Cantil–a man whose been like a father to him since his own disappeared. Soon after, his mother abandoned him too, leaving behind a void that not even his abuelo can fill. Until he meets Pen.

Both seeking a place where they feel like they truly belong, they end up finding each other, and in the face of tremendous fear and self-doubt, they end up finding themselves.





I rarely read YA contemporary, not that I don’t like them, but I always feel like they end up as sappy love stories, but it wasn’t – and I loved that!

First of all, I loved the characters. Pen is my kind og gal, and I felt so inspired reading this book. I think that anyone who has ever experienced depression would feel inspired by this book. I also love her dilemma between being independent and that fear of moving from your family. I also love her determination to succeed and to follow her dreams all though it’s going to be hard. Xander was also such a good character, and I loved how he came out of his shell and showed the people around him who he really was. How he took chances, and became almost fearless.

I also love the story, and how it progressed from being about Pen kind of facing her fears, to Xander also facing his fears, and how they were tangled together. It’s such a pure and raw story that encouraged me to always follow my dreams no matter what.

I also felt incredibly hungry throughout this whole book, and I have to say that after reading this I also want to get my hands on the cookbook that Laekan put together. I actually don’t feel like there were anything that I didn’t like. I mean, I wish that maybe Jago was more present in the book, and of course there were characters that I really liked that I would have loved to get to know better, but for a short stand alone book it was enough for me.

It’s such a good book, and it made me smile several times. I felt with the characters and they felt so real. I also want to warn people that when you read this book you’ll get cravings for Mexican food, that’s for SURE.

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