Title: Taste Test
Author: Kelly Fiore
Publisher: Walker Children’s
Publication Date: August 27, 2013
If you can grill it, smoke it, or fry it, Nora Henderson knows all about it. She’s been basting baby back ribs and pulling pork at her father’s barbeque joint since she was tall enough to reach the counter. When she’s accepted to Taste Test, a reality-television teen cooking competition, Nora can’t wait to leave her humble hometown behind, even if it means saying good-bye to her dad and her best friend, Billy. Once she’s on set, run-ins with her high-society roommate and the maddeningly handsome—not to mention talented—son of a famous chef, Christian Van Lorten, mean Nora must work even harder to prove herself. But as mysterious accidents plague the kitchen arena, protecting her heart from one annoyingly charming fellow contestant in particular becomes the least of her concerns. Someone is conducting real-life eliminations, and if Nora doesn’t figure out who, she could be next to get chopped for good.
Taste Test was one of my most anticipated debuts of the year, and it did not disappoint. It was everything I had hoped it would be: a quirky, fun, escapist read. I loved the mixture of reality TV, cooking, and romance.
While I’ll admit the characters weren’t the most complex I’ve ever read, I really liked them all and felt they were exactly the type of people who would appear on a reality competition show in real life. You’ve got your rich kids (or “legacy losers” as Nora calls them), Joy and Christian, and your small-town girl, Nora, the kind of contestant everyone wants to root for. I’ve read a lot of reviews describing Nora as annoying and judgmental, but personally, I didn’t really have a problem with it because she is a teenager, after all. I thought she was one of the most real people in the competition, and she made me really believe the larger-than-life story. Nora is sassy and determined, and she manages to stay true to herself despite all the nonsense happening both on set and off. Basically, she’s a really heartwarming character with a lot of spunk, and I really enjoyed her.
I also really enjoyed the romance. Love/hate relationships are one of my favorite kinds of romance in YA lit. All of Nora and Christian’s squabbling was entertaining to watch and made me root for them even though Christian was kind of a jerk. Fiore also did a great job keeping up the sexual tension for so long. Nothing “official” even happens until around 60% of the way through (sorry, Kindle user), which made the romance more exciting than if it had happened sooner. My favorite YA romances are those where the tension is built up so much it makes you want to scream, because things don’t happen that quickly in real life either.
Another fun part of this book was the little sections after each chapter where Fiore included interviews from the show and comments from the judges. I think Fiore captured the spirit of what a reality show is really like (no pun intended) very well, and I definitely got a lot of laughs reading the interviews. In addition, I was thrilled to see the recipes included at the end of the book, because a lot of those dishes sounded both delicious and fun to make, and I intend on putting them to the test over some of my school breaks when I get to have a kitchen again.
The only thing I thought could have been a little better was the ending. The dialogue in the part regarding the conspiracy was a little cliche and cringeworthy, and the ending a bit predictable, but I loved the rest of the book so much it didn’t deter my five-star rating. To be honest though, there were a couple places where I did think Fiore might have someone else win, so my comment about predictability may be slightly hypocritical.
Taste Test is a fun, sweet book that will make you both smile and salivate. Though some of the characters and the ending are a bit cliche, that didn’t keep me from enjoying the romance and drama throughout. Nora is a compulsively likeable character that I hope will win the hearts of many. Taste Test is one of my favorite debuts of the year, and I’m so happy it met my expectations.