Title: Dear Julia
Author: Amy Bronwen Zemser
Greenwillow Books, October 2008
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Recommended to: Preteens, 11 to 13
Elaine Hamilton loves to cook: in fact, she wants to become a chef when she grows older. Her ultimate dream is to attend the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris, France to master the art of French cooking, and to learn to cook like her number-one idol, the great Julia Child, who she writes unsent letters to regarding kitchen mishaps and questions. Unfortunately for her, her overachieving feminist mother has other plans for her shy, quiet daughter: she wants Elaine out of the kitchen and into Dartmouth College, where she can hopefully pursue a future in government, just as her mother does...But then she meets the flamboyant and colorful Isadora Wilhelminetta Fischburger (who has cleverly renamed herself Lucida Sans, like the computer font), whose greatest desire is to become famous, and the pair becomes close, unlikely friends. Together, they can tackle anything: a group of hungry brothers, a slightly nutty yoga-practicing father, an egotistical rotten fig of an actor who will stop at nothing to get his way, a cooking competition that could make the girls famous, and the dreaded omelette that Elaine just can't seem to master...Will Elaine be able to pursue her dreams, and win the competition (even if it means facing some of her worst fears)?
Delicious. Just delicious. Where do I begin? First, I found Dear Julia to be incredibly charming, sweet, and unique; fun, breezy, and enjoyable. Zemser possesses a unique writing style: the tone of the book was formal and old-fashioned, but simply made reading through the novel a pleasure. From the middle on, I was at the edge of my seat, madly flipping pages up until the extremely satisfying conclusion. I found the characters to be well-developed and realistic: I absolutely adored Lucida, she was eclectic, colorful, special, distinctive, and utterly lovable (Whew! That was a lot of adjectives!). I loved all of her crazy costumes and how she really discovered her true talents at the end. I loved how she had a slightly different family, how she didn't care what people thought about her, how brave and daring she was, and how she pushed Elaine to try new things. She was simply a breath of fresh air to the novel. Meanwhile, Croton Harmon was also such a fun character. Zemser made him the ultimate "pretty boy" who was totally in love with himself. In fact, he reminded me of the creepily despicable Reggie from those old Betty and Veronica comics: self-involved and utterly sleazy. From his name to his actions, Croton was utterly hateable. On the other hand, I found Elaine to be stuffy, dull, and absolutely bland. She irritated me until I wanted to scream: she was so boring and never stood up for herself. She was too quiet and mousy and, after a while, annoying. However, towards the end of the book, she really grew on me: her character matured and changed and became really likeable. All in all, I really enjoyed Dear Julia (the plot was very clever and fun with humor dotted throughout), but some aspects of it were not satisfactory to me. For the first half of the novel, I was bored out of my mind. I was sick to death of Elaine being so timid and odd, and the plot moved like molasses. I was also confused: throughout the novel, I was wondering how old each brother was, and at the end it really bugged me (was Francis younger or older? And Chris? Was he gay or not?). I also wished the author had hinted at the time period, which didn't make sense to me. Julia Child passed away in 2004, but at the end of the novel [spoiler] she makes an appearance. I just wish Zemser had been more specific, it would've made reading far more enjoyable.
However, the last half of Dear Julia was lovely and by the end I was practically begging for a sequel. Plus: I just love the cover withe the veggie-face! Isn't it cool? What did you think about this book? I want to hear feedback! (Oh-and sorry that this review is reallllly long! I just had a lot to say!) (: