Book Review: Lasagna Means I Love You by Kate O’Shaughnessy
What are the essential ingredients that make a family? Eleven-year-old Mo is making up her own recipe in this unforgettable story that’s a little sweet, a little sour, and totally delicious.
Nan was all the family Mo ever needed. But suddenly she’s gone, and Mo finds herself in foster care after her uncle decides she’s not worth sticking around for.
Nan left her a notebook and advised her to get a hobby, like ferret racing or palm reading.
But how could a hobby fix anything in her newly topsy-turvy life?
Then Mo finds a handmade cookbook filled with someone else’s family recipes. Even though Nan never cooked, Mo can’t tear her eyes away. Not so much from the recipes, but the stories attached to them. Though, when she makes herself a pot of soup, it is every bit as comforting as the recipe notes said.
Soon Mo finds herself asking everyone she meets for their family recipes. Teaching herself to make them. Collecting the stories behind them. Building a website to share them. And, okay, secretly hoping that a long-lost relative will find her and give her a family recipe all her own.
But when everything starts to unravel again, Mo realizes that if she wants a family recipe—or a real family—she’s going to have to make it up herself.
There are so, so many kids in the foster care system. I haven’t really read many books where we see their lives represented. A few weeks back, I read (and loved) Snow Foal by Susanna Bailey, which also features a main character in foster care. That’s part of what inspired me to pick up this book. Obviously no two experiences are the same, so I was curious to see what life would look like here for Mo, our main character.
What it looks like is not easy. Her grandmother, who has been her guardian, dies, leaving Mo to possibly be raised by her uncle, but he isn’t able/willing to do that. So Mo enters into the foster care system. Her first home doesn’t work out, due to various reasons, and she moves on to another couple, who are fostering her with the intent to adopt. This maybe seems great? It would give Mo a permanent home, but of course it’s not that simple. They’re not related to her, and she longs for wherever she’s placed to be with someone she’s related to. But her family has always been tiny, and without her uncle able to take her, that hope seems like a dream. Plus she’s grieving the loss of her grandmother. It’s a really hard and complicated time for Mo. And even though the couple who intends to adopt her have good intentions, things there are not great, for a bunch of reasons I won’t spoil for you. And honestly, all of that was a little hard to read. As it should be, right? I’m guessing for most kids in the foster care system, it’s complicated and full of stress and fear and heartbreak in all but the very best of situations. Will this story eventually have a happy ending for Mo? Yes, but that doesn’t erase how hard it was to get there, or how hard it will likely continue to be for her.
Aside from her experiences with foster care and her hopes for a permanent placement and a family, Mo’s story is also about her new love of cooking and her desire to cook things that are real family recipes. Through the blog she starts, she gathers some recipes and the stories behind them, all of which tie into her desire for family and family stories and recipes of her own. It’s this love of cooking that brings new people and attention into her life and helps her see that family can be created. In the end, I was so happy for where Mo ends up, and pretty angry at the people that let her down, even if it’s probably pretty realistic to have had those things happen. This moving and well-written story about one kid’s experience in the foster care system is so full of heart. Mo’s story will stick with me for a long time. A great read.
Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 02/21/2023
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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