For fans of Jenny Han, Jane Austen, and The Great British Baking Show, A Taste for Love, is a delicious rom com about first love, familial expectations, and making the perfect bao.
To her friends, high school senior Liza Yang is nearly perfect. Smart, kind, and pretty, she dreams big and never shies away from a challenge. But to her mom, Liza is anything but. Compared to her older sister Jeannie, Liza is stubborn, rebellious, and worst of all, determined to push back against all of Mrs. Yang’s traditional values, especially when it comes to dating.
The one thing mother and daughter do agree on is their love of baking. Mrs. Yang is the owner of Houston’s popular Yin & Yang Bakery. With college just around the corner, Liza agrees to help out at the bakery’s annual junior competition to prove to her mom that she’s more than her rebellious tendencies once and for all. But when Liza arrives on the first day of the bake-off, she realizes there’s a catch: all of the contestants are young Asian American men her mother has handpicked for Liza to date.
The bachelorette situation Liza has found herself in is made even worse when she happens to be grudgingly attracted to one of the contestants; the stoic, impenetrable, annoyingly hot James Wong. As she battles against her feelings for James, and for her mother’s approval, Liza begins to realize there’s no tried and true recipe for love.
I’ve been diving deep into all the different Asian own-voices YA books this month and A Taste for Love had a lot of promise. Young baker Liza just wanted to do something she liked without all the pressures that come from her tiger mom. Thankfully, her parents own a bakery-restaurant which is hugely successful in their city where Liza can explore her own new recipes, until a new bakery franchise chain opens up nearby.
But besides the food elements (which are a lovely highlight to this novel), there’s the romance department in the form of a rude boy who, of course, is hot but seems to have no manners at all! And he keeps popping up everywhere Liza likes to frequent with her friends. This has been characterized as a Pride & Prejudice inspired romance, but friends, I’m just not feeling it. Sure, James (aka rude boy) has some work to do in his communication department, but the “tension” isn’t wholly unique to the fabulous Jane Austen novel and the romance just didn’t hit me very hard.
I will just stop you right here if you’re all coming here for the romance. It might be enough for some people, but after reading so many fabulous romances in YA fantasy or contemporary, I just have a higher standard for love – or even its smaller cousin, attraction – and I’m not sure this had what I was looking for. It could just be a me thing, so don’t let that deter you completely, but I’ll be honest it didn’t do it for me.
Where I did really enjoy the plot was the baking element. Oh, and the whole Bachelorette thing going on with the baking competition hosted by Liza’s mom. What Liza thought was a regular year for their annual competition turned out to be a nightmare in the making when she finds only male contestants all vying for the private baking sessions with her as one of the prizes. Of course, what makes it more nightmarish is the fact that many of these males were spurred on by their own tiger moms hoping to make a good match.
I will pause here for a sec as well. First, THANK GOD my Asian mother is nothing like this. While I empathize with kids who do have mothers that lean heavily towards this traditional side of “you must date other Asian kids only” and “I want to control so many aspects of your life” mentality, does it kind of hurt sometimes in another way that all these own-voices stories have these kinds of moms? Yes, a little bit. While it is VERY true for a number of first generation immigrant families to North America, I wish it wasn’t the only depiction I’ve been seeing in these YA books because it repeatedly puts out there this image of us. Maybe these were the authors’ experiences and I would never invalidate them, but just to put it out there, it’s not the cases for all of us thankfully and I wouldn’t want this to be the only stereotype received from Asian families.
Back to the baking! I love the competition aspect and the challenges set forth in each stage. I just wish it was more of a focus. This literally took place almost halfway through the novel and I was getting ANTSY wondering when it would start. It delivered in fun, romantic entanglements (so many of these boys were definitely not here for the baking, obviously), and a bit of suspense as we find someone’s been trying to sabotage the competition.
Asian cuisine took centre stage in the competition but also elsewhere in the book. From delicious dishes Liza’s dad made in their restaurant to the numerous times Liza and her friends just hung out at their favourite boba place, I love the seamless integration of common Asian foods that I too enjoy. While the Yang family is Taiwanese, I think there’s a lot of commonality in the family dynamics and some of the food that crosses all Asian cultures, and I loved seeing parts of me and how I see the world in here.
While I didn’t feel the romance between Liza and James as much as I would have liked, this book honoured the food side of the story that I think others can really enjoy, whether this is new to you or feeling like you’re right at home. I’m glad there are more books coming out like a A Taste for Love, and if you take some of the caveats I listed above in mind, it could be a great contemporary to add to your TBR today.
A Taste for Love delivers a story of Asian food and a side of romance. Having been arranged sneakily by her mother, Liza’s family’s annual baking competition has turned itself into a sort of dating competition for Liza, including a certain rude boy that Liza cannot stop thinking about (or bumping into in the city, apparently). The competition was definitely the highlight, but unfortunately starts about halfway through the book. Meanwhile, the romance develops earlier on but I just did not feel its intensity to be invested in their relationship. Add in the stress of having a tiger mom who would go to such cunning lengths to set up her daughter and I find myself half amused and half annoyed that we have yet again another Asian mom who has such a cultural disconnect with her daughter. But that’s just me being salty. Overall, it’s an enjoyable book, if a little slow at times, but ultimately maybe a little too cookie-cutter to stand out among other contemporaries in YA.