Monday, June 10, 2019

Review: Midsummer's Mayhem by Rajani Larocca


Can Mimi undo the mayhem caused by her baking in this contemporary-fantasy retelling of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream?

Birthday alert! This book's official release date is TOMORROW! I picked up an ARC at KidLitCon back in March, where the author spoke about Diverse Fantasy in the Real World. 

There is so much in this one book that makes me want to organize a book club around it! First up is the fact that Mimi is the youngest in a large Indian-American family, with mention of favorite Indian cuisine sprinkled throughout (culture study). Everyone else in the family is wildly successful: Dad as a food critic, Mom as a business-woman, siblings in sports and arts (explore similar feelings of not measuring up). Mimi is a wonderful baker, but puttering in the kitchen doesn't seem as flashy or impressive as being in the limelight at a performance or game (does something have to make you famous to be important or enjoyable?) Starting a summer without her best friend, who has moved to Australia, Mimi is at a bit of loose ends. (moving, making new friends, noticing new kids at your school)

Then a new bakery in town announces a contest for kids, with the winner meeting Mimi's culinary idol, Puffy Fay (what kind of contest would you have a good chance of winning?). She follows a strange-yet-familiar tune into the forest and discovers a new friend - along with plants and animals she could swear weren't there before (habitat diversity). Things start to look up...and quickly turn sour again.

Mimi's father seems to lose his ability to detect subtle flavors in foods - kind of important for a food critic! - while eating absolutely everything in sight. After eating cookies Mimi makes with ingredients from the forest (herb lore), two boys fall madly in love with one of her sisters, while her brother falls in love with...himself! Then in the first round of the baking contest, Mimi's offering is flatly rejected. Wait a minute - isn't the protagonist supposed to win???

Those who have read Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream will quickly recognize elements of the story line, as well as characters such as (Ti)Tania and Peaseblossom. A brief synopsis offered by a character towards the beginning (as he just happens to be playing Puck in the school production) will give others a heads-up as to what is about to transpire. A book club could, of course, read or watch the play alongside this title. For a short version, I highly recommend Bruce Coville's rewrite.

Either way, readers of any age will enjoy puzzling out mysteries and solutions with Mimi and her new friend Vik. Most of all, they will want to start baking! Mimi makes several tasty snacks throughout the story, musing about specific herbs and spices and how they might work together - blending savory and sweet. This is the reason I most want to have a book club centered on the title: how much fun would it be to experiment together in the same way?!** There are two recipes in the back along with directions for candied rose petals. I plan to try the Chocolate Chunk Thyme Cookies with Citrus Zest soon!

Since I have an ARC I will have to order a finished copy for the library, but as soon as it arrives I will be handing it off to a few young patrons I already have in mind. A solid, engaging middle grade novel with something to appeal to everyone.

**of course, it's also the reason I started experimenting myself this weekend, with results that would definitely NOT win any contests. But that's another post.

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