The Heartbreak Bakery by A.R. Capetta. Candlewick Press, 2021. 9781536216530
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4
What did you like about the book? A.R. Capetta (all pronouns apply) experiments with a story in which the main character (Syd) eschews pronouns. Thank goodness the book is written in the first person so at least Capetta gets to use “I”! Seventeen-year-old agender Syd lives in weird Austin, with employment at the Proud Muffin comprising the vast majority of the teen’s waking hours. The Muffin is an epicenter for queer life, providing not only baked goods but an art gallery, community center, coffee bar, and a welcoming space for people across the LGBTQ+ spectrum. As the story opens, Syd’s been dumped by W after 4 years of coupledom. In a fit of melancholy, the young baker unintentionally makes a pan of dark chocolate, cherry brownies that doom anyone who eats them to heartbreak. Much of the rest of the book involves Syd racing around Austin with new crush Harley (nonbinary and the delivery person for the Muffin) plying victims with new magical baked goods that the kids hope will rekindle the wrecked romances.
I enjoyed my visit to totally queer Austin and appreciated that Capetta was so inclusive: we meet many couples with various orientations, body types, even disabilities. The question of whether Syd will ever get around to telling Mom and Dad about the agender identity provides some suspense and a reason for all the angst. As a baker myself, I loved the endless food talk, including many recipes, some of which I’d think about trying at home (Very Sorry Cake with olive oil and berries, I’m looking at you!). Meanwhile Capetta also includes a recipe for A Perfect Day, with ingredients like Harley, 1-2 hours at Book People, 2 milkshakes, 2 bikes and at least 4 tacos. They’re all written with a healthy scoop of smarmy attitude and really advance the story and character development. Throw in the proposed closing of the Muffin and a last ditch effort to save it with a Great Gay Bake-Off and you’ve really got a big, noisy, colorful show. Syd is white, but many other characters (I admit, I lost track) are described as people of color.
Anything you didn’t like about it? Syd did not seem like a real teen to me. No chores around the house or parental demands, no homework ever, a real job that lets Syd come, go, and bake at will, even a car to drive around Austin to all the hip eateries and dance halls. And if Syd was so crazy and heartbroken about W, why does the intense romance with Harley start after what seems like one day? After a while I began to see the endless parade of queer folks (the polyamorous brunch crew, Syd’s sister possible being aromantic, Harley being demiromantic, the two older Black gentlemen who drive up out of nowhere and treat Syd to a marriage proposal in her front yard, etc.) as glossary entries instead of real characters.
To whom would you recommend this book? Teens looking for a romance novel with LGBTQ+ (big emphasis on the plus) characters. Over the last few years, we’ve had lots of YA with gay and lesbian characters, so it’s great to see representation for other orientations. Readers looking for magical realism, whimsy, and chocolate will not be disappointed. There is some frank but not explicit sex talk in the book, so I’d say grades 9 and up.
Who should buy this book? High schools and public libraries
Where would you shelve it? YA fiction
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No
Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA
Date of review: November 17 , 2021