The Secret Ingredient, by Stewart Lewis

Stewart Lewis's The Secret Ingredient has a great cover, a great hook, and the foundations of at least two—maybe more—great YA novels. Unfortunately, he seems incapable of delivering on any of that promise, and once again produces a book that is simultaneously overly dramatic and underdeveloped.

Sixteen-year-old Olivia wants to become a chef, but she has more immediate concerns: her adoptive fathers are struggling with their finances and their relationship, her older brother is a good-natured flake, and she's increasingly curious about the identity of her biological mother. When she has a chance meeting with a psychic, followed by the discovery of an oddly personal cookbook, Olivia decides it's time to try out some new roles, as both a family member and a young adult.

The Secret Ingredient touches on some genuinely interesting stuff. Lewis could have written a book about an adopted girl attempting to connect with her biological mother over their shared love of cooking. Or he could have written a magical-realism-style story about a girl who finds an old cookbook full of personal notes, and decides to learn more about the author. Hell, he could have limited his focus to Olivia's relationship with her family, her attempt to become a chef, or even her encounters with the inexplicably useful psychic. Instead, he stuffs his novel with all of the above, along with bankruptcy, family tension, jail time, cancer, two unhappy love affairs, adoption issues, MS, and a dead dog. (Not joking.) To use a food metaphor, it's like he combined 16 different recipes for completely unrelated foods, and while the initial ingredients might have been good, the end result is a hot mess.

Review based on publisher-provided copy.
Posted by: Julianka


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