Goodreads: My Fine Fellow
Age Category: Young Adult
Publication Date: January 11, 2022
It’s 1830s England, and Culinarians—doyens who consult with society’s elite to create gorgeous food and confections—are the crème de la crème of high society.
Helena Higgins, top of her class at the Royal Academy, has a sharp demeanor and an even sharper palate—and knows stardom awaits her if she can produce greatness in her final year.
Penelope Pickering is going to prove the value of non-European cuisine to all of England. Her contemporaries may scorn her Filipina heritage and her dishes, but with her flawless social graces and culinary talents, Penelope is set to prove them wrong.
Elijah Little has nothing to his name but a truly excellent instinct for flavors. London merchants won’t allow a Jewish boy to own a shop, so he hawks his pasties for a shilling a piece to passersby—but he knows with training he can break into the highest echelon of society.
When Penelope and Helena meet Elijah, a golden opportunity arises: to pull off a project never seen before, and turn Elijah from a street vendor to a gentleman chef.
But Elijah’s transformation will have a greater impact on this trio than they originally realize—and mayhem, unseemly faux pas, and a little romance will all be a part of the delicious recipe.
With some delightful twists on history and pages of delectable food descriptions, My Fine Fellow is an entertaining take on my My Fair Lady that will have readers’ stomachs grumbling and their hearts hoping for a happy ending for Elijah.
While the book does feel long at times with its extensive descriptions of food, cooking technique, history, and the characters’ pasts interrupting the action, many readers may enjoy these interludes as they can get some real tips for making delicious meals and pastries and learn more about how Jews were treated in England during the early 1800s. Even the main characters are not always free from prejudice on certain topics, adding realism to the book even as it provides those characters an opportunity to grow.
The best part, I believe, is the focus on cooking competitions. I love a good book about the culinary arts, and My Fine Fellow has enough to keep any reader satisfied on this point, with its featuring of a wide variety of foods and techniques and inspiration from various cultures. It will be hard to read this without getting hungry.
The characters are bit hit-or-miss for me. Helena is absolutely insufferable, and while I understand that’s the entire point of her characterization, it at times made reading this book an irritating experience rather than an entertaining one. She’s also snotty and stuffy, and I often wanted to laugh at her way of speaking, which is ironic considering her goal is to teach Elijah how to speak like her. Penelope and Elijah are a bit more well-rounded, and they also have bigger struggles to deal with than Helena does, which grounds them a bit.
My Fine Fellow stands out for its focus on food, and I think readers who enjoy YA historical fiction that provides real insight into history while also making creative alterations and not always taking itself series will like this one.