I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from Delicious!, Ruth Reichl's first work of fiction. The synopsis reeled me in but the book ended up being so much more than I expected. I really loved this novel because it ended up having much more depth than I anticipated.
Here's the synopsis:
Billie Breslin has traveled far from her California home to take a job at Delicious, the most iconic food magazine in New York and, thus, the world. When the publication is summarily shut down, the colorful staff, who have become an extended family for Billie, must pick up their lives and move on. Not Billie, though. She is offered a new job: staying behind in the magazine's deserted downtown mansion offices to uphold the "Delicious Guarantee"-a public relations hotline for complaints and recipe inquiries-until further notice. What she doesn't know is that this boring, lonely job will be the portal to a life-changing discovery.
Delicious! carries the reader to the colorful world of downtown New York restaurateurs and artisanal purveyors, and from the lively food shop in Little Italy where Billie works on weekends to a hidden room in the magazine's library where she discovers the letters of Lulu Swan, a plucky twelve-year-old, who wrote to the legendary chef James Beard during World War II. Lulu's letters lead Billie to a deeper understanding of history (and the history of food), but most important, Lulu's courage in the face of loss inspires Billie to come to terms with her own issues-the panic attacks that occur every time she even thinks about cooking, the truth about the big sister she adored, and her ability to open her heart to love.
Billie was a really interesting character. She was such a meek and withdrawn character, which are not exactly characteristics that make for a great heroine. However, I could tell that she wasn't going to stay that way forever and I was eager to find out how she was going to grow as a person. Slight side note: I was also excited that she was in her early twenties. This is a New Adult novel that I could get behind! Even though Billie was young, she had some life experiences that no young adult should ever have to deal with (there's a twist in there that I sort of saw coming but I was still shocked when I learned the truth!). Part of her growth as a person had to do with actually dealing with those experiences instead of running away from them. My heart went out to her as she dealt with her feelings but I knew it was for the best. And it was. The person she becomes by the end of the book, complete with a lovely surface makeover – new clothes, make up, and hair – is wonderful. I found myself wishing I could be her friend!
The part of the novel I wasn't expecting had to do with Lulu's letters and how much World War II history was woven into the story. It wasn't the typical sort of WWII info you might find in a novel. Instead, it focused on the (American) home front and what the average family had to do to help with the war efforts. Because this was such a foodie novel, a lot of this had to do with food rationing, which was super interesting to read about. It also touched on how the women would have felt when they kept the factories, and everything else, running while the men were off fighting. I always knew it would have been tough but hearing about how Lulu's mother dealt with it really made an impression. I don't think this book would have been nearly as strong had it not been for Lulu, the puzzle surrounding her letters, and the WWII history.
If you're looking for a really good, well told novel, pick up Delicious! I really enjoyed Ruth Reichl's novel and I think many others would too. It has a little bit of everything and the foodie in you will love hearing about all of the shops, restaurants, and dishes Billie encounters.
*A copy of this novel was provided by the publisher, Random House of Canada, in exchange for an honest review.*