180: Laura Taylor Namey's A CUBAN GIRL'S GUIDE TO TEA AND TOMORROW - June 2021 Book Club
Updated: Jun 29
In this Unabridged Book Club episode, we talk about Laura Taylor Namey's young adult romance novel, A Cuban Girl's Guide to Tea and Tomorrow. After our discussion (spoiler alert: this one was a big hit for all of us!), we share our pairings including Stephanie Perkins’s Anna and the French Kiss, Amy Spalding’s We Used to Be Friends, and Elizabeth Acevedo’s With the Fire on High.
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Ashley said, "So this one just came out yesterday. I was reading this a little in advance with NetGalley. I'm reading an e-copy, so I'm happy to do that. And this is Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé’s Ace of Spades (Amazon | Bookshop.org), and I was really compelled to read this one. I was excited when I saw the promos for it because it takes place at a private school. It has a lot of things going on, and it just looked really compelling. I haven't read very much of it yet, but I'm really interested in the characters. It has two protagonists who thus far have very different lives and are not particularly intertwined. So there's Devon, and there's Chiamaka, and they both are at this elite private school together, but Devon is there on scholarship. He's very aware of how different he is from a lot of the other students, and he tries to keep a low profile, so he is not very well known. On the other side of things, Chiamaka is the center of the social world at the school, and she is very aware of that. So she's a fascinating character to see into her mind as a protagonist because she is cold and calculating. She has a tight friend group but does not see them as friends. She is aware of how they use each other for social status, and every move that she makes is carefully calculated. She is extremely popular, extremely talented. She's very intelligent, and so she is determined to climb every ladder so that she can be at the very top. But right in the opening part of the book, there's the ceremony at the beginning of their senior year, and they are announcing the prefects and kind of the head—basically the people who are going to be the head of the school government. She of course is the lead of that group, which is no surprise to anyone. But then Devon's name is called, and I mean, his friend has to kind of tap him and be like, get up, that was your name, and you have to get up because he cannot fathom why he's been chosen for this when it's clearly a popularity contest. Again, he tries to keep one profile, he feels like no one knows who he is, so he can't fathom why this is happening.
"That happens right at the beginning, and from there, we start to learn that both of them have some pretty substantial secrets that they do not want other people to know. Yet those secrets are becoming known in a mysterious way, so we see that happening to Devon first: that photo was revealed, and he doesn't know who has leaked the photo, but it shows him with another guy, and they're together. He thinks at first that the other guy had leaked it on purpose because they had broken up, but the other guy's clearly clueless too. So it becomes this question for him. Why is this happening? There's some things at stake for him. He doesn't really want his sexuality to be open to everyone, and so there's his desire to again, keep a low profile, and stay out of the spotlight. This is shoving him directly into the spotlight, and he is concerned about what those ramifications are going to be. We see that happening, and then simultaneously, we find out that Chiamaka has this really troubling secret that she and another student had happen that she is trying to hide. There's a lot of . . . I think that the mood is really great in this, and there's a lot of tension. It's unclear why events are coming to play the way that they are, but there's a feeling that there's someone who is pulling some strings and making a lot of things happen on purpose, and so it's really interesting so far. And I am interested to see what happens. So again, that's a brand new release that just came out yesterday. And I think it's going to be a great read. It's young adult, and it is Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé’s Ace of Spades."
Jen said, "I am listening to Isabel Wilkerson's Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (Amazon | Bookshop.org). So my real-life book club chose this as their main book, and then I'm also doing a side buddy read, a read-to-learn buddy read with @readwithtoni in June about this one. It is narrated by Robin Miles, who is fantastic. Wilkerson is the author of The Warmth of Other Suns, which I talked about at the very beginning of 2021. That was a historical primarily historical book. This one has history in it as well, but it is also, I would say, sociological. It is looking at the function of caste in our society, the way that we have put Black Americans at the bottom of society, and it is comparing it to the caste system of India and to the very deliberate way that the Germans built a caste system to put Jews at the bottom between World War I and World War II. There are some parts of it that I'm familiar with already, but what I think Wilkerson is doing that is really new, that I haven't seen before, is she is looking at the way these different countries studied each other's caste systems to make theirs more effective. I had no idea that the Germans studied the American caste system—that is not called a caste system—to build theirs in Germany before World War II, that they looked at our laws to figure out ways to denigrate Jews, the Jewish population. I was driving when I was listening to that chapter, and it made me gasp. I don't know why that one hit me so hard, but it really did.
"She talks also about the pillars of caste and what societies have to do to make caste system stick so that it's more than just legal, but it's the way that the people in the society think about the way their society is structured. Then she intersperses that with personal stories and anecdotes of times that caste has impacted her or people she knows or people from history. So it's this amazing blend of the personal and the societal and the global that I am finding really fascinating. I think we're going to have a lot to talk about: I always have that regret that I'm listening because a lot of things are having impact, but of course, I don't have the attention to detail that I do when I read it in print, but I'm also so glad to be reading it. Again, Robin Miles is a fantastic narrator. So that is Isabel Wilkerson's Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, which I'm just learning so much from."
Sara shared, "Well, this is a book that I started a long time ago, and then I got sidetracked with other things. Then I had some at some point, I had put it on hold at my library—the audio book—and the audio came in. So because it had said, you will get this in four months, I just forgot about it. Well, it came in. So this is Sarah Morgenthaler's The Tourist Attraction (Amazon | Bookshop.org). So I restarted it and listened to it, and I I'm not going to go into great detail because we've talked about it several times: both Jen and Ashley have already read it. It's about a kind of a grumpy guy who lives in this tourist town in Alaska. He has this restaurant where he basically treats the patrons of his restaurant horribly, and they're like, 'this is great,' and they come back for more. His name is Graham. Then there is Zoe, who is a traveler who has traveled to Alaska, and she basically has saved up all of her money over lots of years. This is her major vacation of a lifetime, and, you know, there's some drama, there's some love, and there's a moose, who is kind of the mascot of the town. It's just a great, light read, and I think, here for summer, it would be a great beach read. I think anybody that enjoys romance, and it's not a huge emotional investment, but it's just a fun read. I think it's great for the summertime. So that is Sarah Morgenthaler's The Tourist Attraction. It is actually the first in a series, and the second one is Mistletoe and Mr. Right (Amazon | Bookshop.org), and I actually put that on hold at my library. If it comes in this summer, I will be reading the holiday book in the summer because I'm just interested to be back with these characters."
Main Segment - Book Club Discussion for Laura Taylor Namey's A Cuban Girl's Guide to Tea and Tomorrow
Jen said, "I really love this. I knew when we chose it that I would like it, but I loved it more than I expected. The cover is very much focused on this beautiful young couple, and while there is definitely a romance that runs through the story, I think I really loved the fact that Namey makes it about so much more than just a central romance, and she builds Lila as a really strong character who is a very complicated character. She is at a time in her life when things would be changing anyway, but because—she calls it the trifecta—because the trifecta occurred—her abuela died; her best friend basically, she feels, ended their friendship; and her boyfriend broke up with her all very close together—she is contending with more change than most kids that age contend with. I thought it was just a really rich story, and I loved the way that Namey used this change in setting to make Lila reflect on who she is and on what matters. She loved her abuela so much that she's a huge part of her identity, and so in some ways, leaving Miami is mirroring leaving abuela and is making her think about how she can go on without her. I could go on and on. I feel like I'm already pretty rambly, but I really really loved it overall."
Ashley said, "I thought it was strong to start with, and I liked it. Then the farther that I got into the book, the more I loved it. I think particularly with this kind of book, that is hard to do. A lot of times with romance novels, I find that I really love them, but I get a little worn out in some ways toward the end. This one I just felt got stronger and stronger, and I loved what Namey developed, the farther I got into the book. So ultimately, I absolutely loved it and thought it was really phenomenal, about a lot of different topics that, like Jen said, she's able to touch on that go so far beyond the kind of typical teen romance experience that can be fun to read about. But this one surpasses that in so many ways. I thought that all worked really, really well."
Sara said, "I just have to say ditto because I just . . . it was not what I expected from the cover. I thought, and like you said, Jen, I thought I would like it, but I did not realize how much I was going to love it. And like you said, Ashley, the further and further I got into it, the more I just fell in love with these characters and the sense of family. I just think that Namey is so good at writing when you're in that moment when you've graduated from high school, and you're trying to find yourself, but also you're holding on to the things that matter to you. She captures that so well in the book. By the end, it was one of those ones I just wanted to hug because I thought she did so well. I think she does a really good job of describing grief and how it's such a road. It's not something that is finite. It's just something that you always carry with you, and I just thought it was all really lovely. I loved it."
Ashley chose Stephanie Perkins's Anna and the French Kiss (Amazon | Bookshop.org). She said, "This was one of my very first YA reads when I moved here to Virginia, and it was one that Jen shared with me. I had read virtually no romance books and had quite a bias against them. I've talked before about how I'm sorry now for the prejudice that I carried against genres because I now understand that all genres have a place and that there are still some I don't love, like thrillers, for example, I don't absolutely love. But I have come to understand that one kind is not better than another kind. I definitely had that attitude, which I think is important to acknowledge just because I wish I hadn't, but I did. Now I've learned, and I'm grateful. So this is one of the ones that changed my attitude. . . .
"That was the first one I read of hers, but I have read all of her others, and I think that what this one has in common is that Anna is excited to go into her senior year of high school, but she is sent to a boarding school in Paris against her will. She has to adjust to that reality, and so there is definitely that similarity of this is not what she wanted. She had a future planned, and this was not that plan. So like Lila, who gets sent to England and is desperate to come back home, we see a lot of that with Anna. But similarly, as she stays there, she meets Etienne, and he has a complicated relationship with his family and a lot that he's working through, but as they get to know each other better, she comes to see the beauty in where she is, the joy in discovering a new place, and I think all of that is really well done. I've shared about this one a little bit in the past, and it has been a while since I've read it, but I think that there's a strong similarity as far as figuring out who you are in relationship, to being put in a new environment where you have to find your way. So that definitely happens for Anna here. And I just love Stephanie Perkins. I think that her work is really fun, but also deals with some heavy issues. In a way some of the style I think is similar to this one in the sense that there are heavy things to work through, but the characters are working through them in a way that is believable, and that is a rich reading experience. So again, that's Stephanie Perkins's Anna and the French Kiss."
Jen said, "So I picked Amy Spalding's We Used to Be Friends (Amazon | Bookshop.org). I read this one as part of a buddy read as well. I chose this because it is about the end of a high school friendship as the girls are getting ready to graduate. It covers really the whole of their senior year. It reminded me of Lila and Stephanie's friendship. There are certainly differences, but I think it does a good job of acknowledging both how important friends are to us and the way that sometimes we change and grow away from each other. I listened to this one on audio, and I really loved it. It's told from both girls' perspectives, and it alternates between chapters with different narrators, and both narrators are amazing. The really unusual thing about it is that one story—Kat's story—moves forward through their senior year, so you start at the beginning with Kat and James (James is a girl) are best friends, and you see Kat's world changing as she moves forward. And James's story starts at the end of their senior year when they are no longer friends. Her story works backwards. It's really interesting because Spalding uses that to show the exact same scene from their two perspectives, and you see how one girl experienced what was happening in this way, and then the other one saw things completely differently. I will say I think this is a heavier book than A Cuban Girl's Guide to Tea and Tomorrow: in the last chapter of the book, I was absolutely sobbing because you have reached the point where you see and understand what they have lost. There are parts of it that are really heartbreaking, but I really appreciated the way—there are romances in the book as well, but they are really not the focus—the focus is on this central friendship. You see some of the same journeys that Lila is going on, understanding that your best friend doesn't have to be your only friend: things like that. But also just that the loss of that friendship is impactful, and it's not something . . . I think sometimes we brush aside friendship in favor of romance when we look at YA books and say this is one that didn't do that at all, which I really liked. But yeah, get your get your tissues out. I mean, it is really poignant in places."
Sara said, "So I'm going to go with Elizabeth Acevedo's With the Fire on High (Amazon | Bookshop.org), and we actually had a book club episode on this book. It's episode 89. . . . I thought this was a great pairing for A Cuban Girl's Guide to Tea and Tomorrow because there is a central very strong female, young adult female character, Emoni Santiago, at the heart of this story. She actually has a really, really strong relationship with her abuela, her guardian basically, and so they have this really strong relationship and Emoni has this really amazing impact on the food that she makes. She is an aspiring chef, so I thought that there were a lot of similarities. There are a lot of differences to A Cuban Girl's Guide to Tea and Tomorrow, but I thought that this would make a really lovely pairing, and if you liked A Cuban Girl's Guide (I'm just gonna go with the shorter name), you will enjoy With the Fire on High. Like A Cuban Girl's Guide, there is a romance, but it's not what you take from that story. I think it's the family and the importance of finding yourself and making your own way and blazing your own path that is at the heart of this story, which I feel like is also at the heart of Lila's story. Emoni is just a great character. She has a daughter, and so that's a really rich component of this story about how she's navigating high school and being a mom and all the requirements that come with that. I just think that both of these provide really good, awesome food descriptions and then also the relationships between family and how you make your way. That's With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo."
Give Me One - Movie or TV Show that Made You Cry
Make sure you listen to the end to find out what movie or television show made each of us cry! And join us on Monday on social media to let us know what makes you cry, too.
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