Skip to main content

North of Happy

Review

North of Happy

NORTH OF HAPPY centers around Carlos Portillo, a dual citizen of Mexico and the United States, who attends an elite international school in Mexico City. Carlos has always loved to cook, but his parents view it solely as a hobby, and much to his dismay, he abides to their ideals. Carlos has always embodied the perfect, rule following role of his family, while his older brother Felix has taken an alternative path, defying their parent’s wishes. When Felix is tragically killed, Carlos begins to hear his brother’s voice, who offers him advice and persuades him to rebel against their father’s plan for him. Shortly after, Carlos comes to the United States and secures a job working for his favorite celebrity chef. However, he starts to fall in love with his boss’s daughter, which he knows could end his career. Now freely living by himself, Carlos must decide what he values the most in life, and pave his own path.

"I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a lighthearted young adult contemporary novel. If this book has provided me with one thing, it would be a newfound desire to cook!"

Alsaid focuses the entire plot around food, beginning with each chapter detailing a recipe that Carlos has enjoyed in his life to depicting the ins and outs of working in a restaurant. I found this recipe tactic appealing because it differed from the norm of contemporary young adult novels, which are typically rigid in structure. However, the one disconnect is that the recipes do not correlate with the scenes in the chapter, which I believe would have been even more compelling, but I still enjoyed his unique device. I also appreciated the fact that he made Carlos so passionate about cooking, as the reader was really able to envision his love for working in the kitchen, and his arduous journey to get where he was.

While one of the main focuses of the novel was certainly food, it did dedicate a large portion to discussing death, and dealing with the grief afterwards. Carlos and Felix differed in many regards, but their similar thread was their shared love of food, so it was fitting that Carlos was really able to pursue his dream with Felix by his side. I thought his cooking was an abstract way of serving as an outlet for his anger and grief, but also as a form of pleasure and reducing his anxiety. By the end of the story, Carlos’ hallucinations of Felix were decreasing, as his career was taking off, which I thought was a powerful writing tactic.

I also felt like a major theme throughout this novel was coming-of-age. As an 18-year-old, Carlos is quickly transformed into a world that he considers a fantasy: working his dream job alongside a girl who he has never felt something so intense for. I found this aspect to be relatable and believable for many teenagers who are struggling to find their place in the world.

In the end, I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a lighthearted young adult contemporary novel. If this book has provided me with one thing, it would be a newfound desire to cook! Alsaid’s meticulous descriptions have inspired me to create some of my own dishes, similar to Carlos.

Reviewed by Ryan H., Teen Board Member on March 19, 2019

North of Happy
by Adi Alsaid