Title: Confectionately Yours: Save the Cupcakes!
Author: Lisa Papademetriou
Series: Confectionately Yours #1
Other Reviews for This Author: None
Let's get this out of the bag right now - I am a not-so-closeted viewer of Cupcake Wars on the Food Network. Really, I'm just obsessed with the Food Network in general - I'm one of those people that will probably be all experiment-y once I get into college and beyond and will actually have free reign of a kitchen(ette). Cupcake Wars, however, holds a special place in my heart. It is the first food show that I have become obsessed with, and it also reminds me of how much I love cupcakes. This unnecessary life back story made this book one that I was instantly attracted to. I mean, a cute middle grade story about a girl who bakes cupcakes? Do I even have to go on? What's even better is that this book exceeded my expectations in the best ways.
Haley is the queen of the cupcake world. Okay...maybe not the queen, but the queen-in-training for sure. She's constantly working at her grandmother's bakery, making a variety of sweets and helping out however she can. Haley doesn't just make things from recipes, either. She experiments and works out unusual flavor combinations that sometimes become major hits for her grandmother's customers. Haley may only be in middle school, but her passion for baking is serious and leads her to doing many exciting things. Cupcakes in particular are near and dear to Haley's heart, and the baking helps her get through tough spots in her life, too.
Tough spots are appearing more than ever as great changes go on in Haley's life. Her parents have just gotten a major divorce, and her mother has been out of work. Now, Haley finds herself living with her grandmother, her mother, and her younger sister. She sees her father on occasion, and he always seems to be trying to make her do something with him. Chloe, Haley's sister, may be fine with interacting with their father, but Haley still holds a grudge against him for the divorce and the reasons behind it. Her father obviously is moving on with a new girlfriend, and unlike his ex-wife, Haley's father has more than enough money to spare.
As if things couldn't be any more confusing, Haley also has to deal with issues regarding her friends at school. She's been best friends with a girl named Artemis - dubbed 'Artie' as long as she's known her - for years, but since she's started acting in school productions and getting to know one of the popular guys, Artie has begun drifting away from her friendship with Haley. Without Artie, Haley sees that her friendship with Marco might be a bit awkward. She didn't realize just how much Artie buffered the group's friendship. Haley's life just seems to be getting more and more complicated, but a little help from her wonderful cupcakes may be enough to keep things from going to pieces.
I think it's safe to say that my weakness for these middle grade novels lies in the narration style. Like YA, middle grade is a genre that thrives on a strong narrative voice; fantasy narrations are whimsical yet honest, and contemporary narrations are full of so much heart. Confectionately Yours: Save the Cupcakes! is of the latter variety, and it ranks up there with my reading of Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver (which I have yet to review, but trust me - it's a darn good middle grade novel). The character voice is so spot-on it's ridiculous. Haley's voice comes through loud and clear, and what's amazing is that she talks like a middle schooler but makes her problems seem relative to an older reader. Everything she's going through is identifiable in some way, and none of her problems feel like they're fabricated for the sake of teaching the reader a lesson. Haley is very honest about her reactions and knows that some of them aren't really the best ones to have. For instance, it's very clear that she knows she shouldn't dislike her father and his new girlfriend - she recognizes that they aren't entirely against her. There's a level of intelligence about Haley that makes the reader feel sympathetic towards her understandable feelings because she recognizes that her emotions are overriding her judgement. Haley also grows, and it's nice (and a bit sad) to see her realize that her friends won't always stay her friends and that new people may take their places. There's just something so wonderful about her voice - she intermixes a current story, backstory, and "confessions" that reveal her feelings on specific subjects that crop up in the book. It makes her narration feel very honest and reflective, and it also keeps the reader invested in how she turns out as a character.
Then comes the rest of the gang. I have to say, the rest of the characters were pretty entertaining in their own right. It was nice to see a semi-love interest (one that's obviously being set up for a bit of a romance, but not to the point of it being annoying) like Marco. He's a bit of a hot-head and obviously has trouble fully expressing his feelings, but his friendship with Haley is cute and I love that it involves Haley understanding him and accepting his flaws. Marco's not like the perfect YA love interests, and that makes him more appealing - I really look forward to how Papademetriou progresses their friendship/possible relationship. Artie annoyed me to some extent because of how she drifted away from Haley, but she was characterized well and, as a reader, I could see how Artie would enjoy feeling accepted into the group of theater kids at school and would attempt to wrongly change herself for them. Then there's Meghan, a surprise-friend that comes in and really makes herself shine. Her growing friendship with Haley is super cute, and there's something wonderful about a character that makes you root for the friendship to grow stronger. What's great about Meghan is that she's the type of character that gets active and involved in whatever she does, but she doesn't come across as being overly-characterized in that sector of her personality. There's something memorable about her, though I can't quite place what it is. Haley's parents and grandmother were also characterized well - it was great to see that she had such a strong relationship with her mother and grandmother. She understands her mother's position in regards to the divorce and sympathizes with it in a way that will give younger readers insight without being obvious about it, and it also allows the reader to like Haley even more. Her grandmother was just amusing, and her own romance with another secondary character is extremely adorable.
If you can't tell, Papademetriou has a way of writing her novel that highlights the character's voice without limiting it to a singular readership. Yes, the problems and issues are relative to that of a middle schooler, but I was constantly surprised at how much I cared about what happened in Confectionately Yours. The writing style was breezy but still carried weight to it. It reminded me in some ways of the Pony Whisperer series (another fabulous middle grade series) in how it combined a great narrative with sound characters. It's hard for an adult author to get the voice of a middle grade kid down, and it's even harder for them to write it in a manner that doesn't preach or get too out-there for the readership. The balance is done so, so well in Confectionately Yours. Papademetriou really got how to make her character easy to relate to, and a great character voice can make any novel a wonderful experience. The plotting of the novel was a little more haphazard than I would have liked - there are several subplots going on at once, and the 'main' plot revolving the banning of cupcake sales at Haley's school is really a small part of the entirety of her story. The ending is open-ended and leaves room for the sequel, so all of the threads are basically left hanging. Normally this would have frustrated me, but instead it just made me eager to get the sequel asap (and I do mean it - I would have devoured it right away if I had it on hand, which is rare for me). Another bonus? The book lists cupcake recipes that go along with the cupcakes that Haley makes in the book. Some are basic while others are bizarre - you get everything from an apple cupcake recipe to a recipe for french toast cupcakes. It provides an interesting little something to the narrative and would be a really great tool for parents that want to talk about the book with their kids - not to mention the recipes sound really, really good and are ones that I plan on trying someday.
Confectionatley Yours: Save the Cupcakes! may be more of a fluffier read than some readers would like, but there's enough heart and conflict at the center of this story to make it surprising for those who don't expect much. Haley is a lovable main character filled with lots of heart and lots of spunk, and readers will be delighted with her storytelling and the way that she handles things in her life. Confectionately Yours is a fun read that had me flipping the pages like a mad man. I can't wait for the sequel. This is the type of novel that I'll gladly throw towards people who want good middle grade for their children or for themselves. Be warned: the baking and cupcake descriptions will make anyone who reads this very, very hungry.
Cover: This cover is cute. I know it's nothing outstanding, but it just screams "cute book about cupcakes". Which is really all of the incentive I need.
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Copy: Received from publisher/publicist for review (Thank you, Becky and Scholastic!)