We have updated our Privacy Policy Please take a moment to review it. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the terms of our updated Privacy Policy.


I'm Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter meets Emergency Contact in this stunning Pura Belpré Honor Book about first love, familial expectations, the power of food, and finding where you belong.

Penelope Prado
has always dreamed of opening her own pastelería next to her father's restaurant, Nacho's Tacos. But her mom and dad have different plans—leaving Pen to choose between not disappointing her traditional Mexican American parents or following her own path. When she confesses a secret she's been keeping, her world is sent into a tailspin. But then she meets a cute new hire at Nacho's who sees through her hard exterior and asks the questions she's been too afraid to ask herself.

Xander Amaro has been searching for home since he was a little boy. For him, a job at Nacho's is an opportunity for just that—a chance at a normal life, to settle in at his abuelo's, and to find the father who left him behind. When both the restaurant and Xander's immigrant status are threatened, he will do whatever it takes to protect his newfound family, and himself.

Together, Pen and Xander must navigate first love and discovering where they belong in order to save the place they all call home.

This stunning and poignant novel from debut author Laekan Zea Kemp explores identity, found families, and the power of good food, all nestled within a courageous and intensely loyal Chicane community.

About the Author

NOVL - Headshot photo of Laekan Zea Kemp

Laekan Zea Kemp
 is the Pura Belpré Honor author of Somewhere Between Bitter and SweetHeartbreak Symphony, and Omega Morales and the Legend of La Lechuza. Her work celebrates Chicane grit, resilience, creativity, and joy while exploring themes of identity and mental health. She lives in Austin, Texas. Laekan invites you to visit her at laekanzeakemp.com or follow her on Twitter @LaekanZeaKemp.

Peek the Audiobook

From NOVL Nation

“This is a fantastic coming of age story that really dives into the importance of family and culture.”

– Toya, @thereadingchemist

 “Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet  is the book equivalent of a mug of hot chocolate, or inside jokes with your best friend – just completely warm and comforting and delicious. Truly cannot recommend it enough.”

– Jamie, @jlew8

“Xander and Pen felt so genuine and real, as well as those characters around them – this book really brought this world to life, and I loved every second spent in it.”

– Olivia, @onemused

The NOVL Blog, Featured Image for Article: Read It and Eat It: Somewhere Between Bitter and Cocada


LB School Podcast

Laekan Zea Kemp From Teaching to Writing

In 2017, during my second year in the classroom, one of my ESL students came to my desk–we’ll call him Adan–and asked me if I could help him write a text message. As an ESL teacher, I was used to helping students write all kinds of things in English–emails, birthday cards, job applications. Once I even had a student ask me to help her write a love letter to a boy she secretly admired.

So I told Adan that of course I would help him and he proceeded to hand me his phone. As I read the text message he’d just receive
d he attempted to explain the situation as best he could. But it was clear from the apology I was reading that the person he was texting with had said some horrible things to him.


A Pura Belpré Honor Book
YALSA’s 2022 Best Fiction for Young Adults list
KirkusReviews Best Books of 2021 list
Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2021 list
New York Public Library Best of 2021 list
Kirkus Reviews Best YA of 2021 list
Milwaukee County Teen Book Award, Nominee
Georgia Peach Book Award Nominee 2022-2023
TAYSHAS High School 2022 reading list
Eliot Rosewater HS Book Award Nomineee
Georgia Peach Teen Readers 2022-2023 

"Wonderfully realized characters, a vibrant setting, and so much more. I loved this." —Melina Marchetta, award-winning author of Jellicoe Road
"Pen and Xander will steal your heart. One to savor." —Laura Taylor Namey, New York Times bestselling author of A Cuban Girl's Guide to Tea and Tomorrow
"A bold new voice to watch in children's fiction." —Eric Smith, author of Don't Read the Comments
"An affecting, timely debut….Add it to your 2021 TBR list immediately." —Liz Lawson, author of The Lucky Ones
"Like the delicious food and decadent desserts described within its pages, Kemp's debut explores the often bitter and sweet complexity of family, new love, and what it means to find home. " —Mia García, author of The Resolutions
"Pen and Xander's unforgettable love story refuses to sugarcoat difficult topics, but instead deftly explores them with a thoughtful hand. A cathartic read and new favorite author." —Nina Moreno, author of Don't Date Rosa Santos
"Fans of Elizabeth Acevedo’s With the Fire on High will cherish Xander and Pen’s love story and Pen’s passion for food. This stellar debut offers a cathartic take on a relationship between a father and daughter. Authentic flavor inside and out." —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Kemp’s novel serves up finely rendered, stirring character arcs…as well as an intimate portrait of two teens grappling with mental health, complicated family relationships, and newfound love.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Lush imagery celebrates Mexican culture and depicts how food can bring people ­together. . . . not to be missed." —School Library Journal
"Students will enjoy the food descriptions and community culture that lend the story a sense of authenticity and believability." —School Library Connection
"Recommended for readers who enjoy strong stories about found families, expectations, and food." —Booklist
Read More Read Less