Title: Pen & Xander
Author: Laekan Zea Kemp
Genre: YA Contemporary / Romance / Mental Health
Publication Date: October 31, 2017
Goodreads Synopsis: 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 first heard about this book on Karen Jo’s blog, Sincerely Karen Jo. I love the concept of facing fears and overcoming self-doubt to find yourself. It’s not in many books I read, so it is something different for me. I quickly requested the book and was approved!
Pen & Xander follows the lives of Pen and Xander. Pen loves to cook, while Xander longs for a father. They both go through the journey of finding themselves and what they want most in the world. It is a cute story that you can connect with from pages one.
I’m excited to be sharing my thoughts with you on this book, so let’s get to it!
Things I Like:
Connection With Characters
From page one I felt a connection with Pen. She is hard-working and determined to impress her father into letting her run the family restaurant. Although her parents have other ideas of what she should do with her life, she looks at it as “living a life that doesn’t belong to [her] or losing the one [she] loves.” All she wants to do is live her dream and I can relate to that so much with my writing. I want to write and share my writing with the world, not live a life where I’m unhappy. There is so much more that I love about Pen, but I think I may start rambling (if I haven’t already). Now, I didn’t relate to Xander too much, but I love his characterization so much. If you read this book, for one thing, read it for the characters!
Mental Health Representation
Depression is a big theme in this book. For a good portion of the book it is subtle, but as the book progresses, it becomes a bigger part of Pen’s character. She goes through a lot of difficulties throughout the novel that test her emotionally and her process of getting through tough times. I think the handle of mental health was very well-done as it wasn’t in your face, but still at the forefront of the story.
My oh my, was this book relatable to me! I think it has a lot to do with the characters, but the messages in this book are something I really needed to hear right now. So here are my favorite quotes that I related to so much and added an entire star to my rating!
“Because in life sometimes the only way to move forward is to do the scary thing.”
“The things that scare us aren’t roadblock but mirrors and bravery isn’t about shattering our reflection but it’s about having the strength to look.”
Things I Don’t Like:
Lack of Information
There is a lot of hinting at parts in the book without much explanation. It became a bit confusing and hard to follow at times because there are a lot of characters. Each employee at the restaurant has a backstory and so do the main characters. Maybe it was just me jumbling everything, but it felt very confusing to keep track of. When it comes to Xander, a lot of information is withheld until necessary for his plotline to continue.
I usually don’t have a problem with insta-love storylines. I think it’s pretty cute. But this was not cute. I’m not really sure how to explain it. Honestly, it felt really awkward and only convenient to the plot to have Pen and Xander fall in love. I think it would have been better for them to have been friends as that’s how their relationship felt to me. It also came up out of nowhere. Like I just met you, barely talked to you, and we’re together? Hm…I’m not quite sure about that.
Too Many Plotlines
I mentioned this a little bit in the lack of information section. There are a lot of characters in this book with a lot of backstories. But the main characters alone have a lot going on in their past. It is confusing and had me feeling very confused as I was reading.
Overall, Pen & Xander is a cute contemporary book about finding yourself. It has a great representation of depression and the effects it has on a person. The characters are super relatable and I really liked the connection I was able to make with them. Although it did feel like there were too many plotlines and a weird insta-love story, I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed Laekan’s writing, and I would love to read more of her work. I give Pen & Xander…
What do you think about this book? Have you read it? Let me know in the comments below!
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