I was super excited to read Sweetbitter after seeing celebs rave about it on Instagram: Eva Longoria, Emma Roberts, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Troian Bellasario, etc. The pink book jacket with broken wine glass cover art was practically screaming my name, and its Insta-fame had me dying to dive in.
I have to be honest, I really disliked this book at first. There was so much restaurant lingo, half-finished conversations, and narrator ramblings that I couldn’t quite catch what was going on and found myself utterly confused. I hit my 100 page mark and really almost gave it back up to the library. But I could feel Spencer Hastings and Chanel Oberlin begging me to read more. And you know what? I’m glad I did. I ended up really liking it. This book was certainly different than my recent reads, and I agree with many Amazon reviews that there really is no true “plot.” But once I stopped searching for the storyline and quit stressing my brain trying to understand the different types of oysters and regions of wine, I let myself enjoy the reality of Tess’ navigation of adulthood. I really truly enjoyed it.
While Sweetbitter is strictly a novel and not memoir, it closely mirrors the journey of author Stephanie Danler as she makes her start in New York City and the restaurant business. The story opens with Tess moving from her vaguely unhappy life in Ohio to a microscopic apartment in Williamsburg (Brooklyn, not VA, for you Virginians like myself.) Determined to find employment of any kind, and with a resume boasting previous barista work, snags a job as a back-waiter in one of Union Square’s most prestigious restaurants. Tess is in over her head, navigating a new city, new job, and completely new lifestyle, all while facing the typical challenges of young adulthood. She experiments with drugs, alcohol, sex, and her newfound freedom in the city. She experiences complicated adult relationships, as well as heartache, loneliness, and wondering “is this it?” While Tess’ coming-of-age was much wilder and exotic than my own, I felt nostalgia for that confusing and blissful period of early womanhood. By the end of the novel, I felt I had grown up with Tess and could really feel the transformation she underwent in just one short year.
If you are interested in an action-driven, event-filled, cant-put-down read, this novel may not be the best for you, but I would encourage you to give it a go (past the first 100 pages) to experience beautiful writing, gorgeous metaphors, and an appreciation for growing up and figuring out life.
My blind beagle Gracie loved it, too.
3.5 out of 5 stars.