Robust Perspectives, Mental Health, and Delightful Seasoning: Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laekan Zea Kemp

Success should (ideally) come down to what we want for ourselves. There are many factors that help shape what success looks like for us—cultural norms, socio-economic status, outside influences, and more—as female protagonist Penelope Prado shows us in Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laekan Zea Kemp. I had the pleasure of chatting with debut author, Laekan Zea Kemp, about her new young adult novel.

Photo Credit: Laekan Zea Kemp

It’s common knowledge that mental health is not always addressed during our road to success. In this story, there are many pieces of Laekan Zea Kemp. Pen’s mental health struggles mirror the mental health journey Laekan has been on since her late teens / early college years when her father was sick, her mother and Laekan weren’t getting along, and, “it felt like [her] entire world was falling apart.” The book’s male protagonist, Alejandro “Xander” Amaro, was inspired by the author’s former students. Laekan was an ESL teacher and most of her students were immigrants from Central and South America. The author states: “I’ve gotten to see up close what it’s like for them and their families to navigate our ridiculous immigration system. And yet through it all they are so resilient and so hopeful. I wanted to capture that in Xander’s character.” Not only do parents figures influence one’s success, educators are also on the frontlines of students’ professional well-being.

Adding to the importance of mental health in this read is how the conversation of family ties and culture take shape in literature. It’s widely known that multi-generational homes are very common among BIPOC communities in general. Kemp says, “it’s western culture that prizes individualism but in a Latinx household, [usually], the family works as a unit to reach common goals and one person’s success is shared among everyone.” The author adds that family is thus essential and everything else sort of orbits around that, so there is no separating Pen or Xander from those influences. Those bonds have a huge impact on the way Pen and…


You’ll extra enjoy this great book with a good plate of food. I sure did!

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