I finished reading A Place at the Table before the New Year so I did not include it on my official #mustreadin2020 list, but this novel, beautifully co-written by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan is truly one you do not want to miss.
Navigating middle school is challenging for sixth graders, Sara and Elizabeth. Sara is adjusting to attending public school for the first time, and Elizabeth is dealing with a change in her relationship with her best friend, Maddy. Home life also presents issues. Sara is worried about her mother’s catering business while Elizabeth is coping with her mother’s depression after the death of Elizabeth’s grandmother.
Sara and Elizabeth meet in an after school cooking club which is taught by Sara’s mother. The girls become partners out of necessity and at first, it seems that Sara who is Pakistan-American and Elizabeth who is British-Jewish-American have nothing in common. An extremely talented artist, Sara would rather create in her sketchbook while cooking, reading, and Dr. Who are Elizabeth’s passions. Their friendship has a rocky start but after a few mishaps, they learn the key to being a true friend is honesty and patience. Sara and Elizabeth also realize that their cultural differences are an asset, for through their collaboration, they create a unique recipe for the international cooking contest.
Told through the points of view of Sara and Elizabeth in alternating chapters, co-authors Faruqi and Shovan have seamlessly written an authentic and powerful middle grade story that explores themes of family, culture, religion, identity, racism, friendship, food and most importantly, finding the voice to speak up for yourself and others. I highly recommend A Place at the Table to not only students but also teachers and parents, for I gained perspective on Pakistani and Jewish culture and the challenges of being a first generation American. As a Marylander, I also loved that the novel took place in my home state with many references such as The Curious Iguana, an independent bookstore in Frederick and our hometown paper, The Baltimore Sun.
Thanks to the authors and publisher Clarion Books/HMH for sharing an ARC with my #bookexcursion group. Pre-order now, for A Place at the Table will be released on May 12, 2020.