I’ve been building up to this for a while, but finally, here it is! My review of the anthology Hungry Hearts: 13 Tales of Food & Love!
Anthologies take me a while to read & review because I always have to take notes on them as I read, but I’m glad I’ve managed to make it through!
This is such a dynamic anthology, and I wanted to first talk a little bit about how this specific anthology really reached a next level for me. One of the things I struggle with when reading anthologies is cohesiveness. Yes, the short stories have similarities, but I also love seeing them tied together.
And Hungry Hearts managed to tie the short stories together, and beautifully at that. I loved how the stories were positioned (read it cover to cover!) and how it built up the world with each story. It wasn’t like each short story existed in its own bubble, but rather that they were all tied together.
You’d see restaurants from one short story mentioned in another. You’d see characters return–like Ming from Elsie Chapman’s Kings and Queens. You’d see a mysterious shy girl with pastries pop up again and again until the last story of the anthology, where her own tale is told.
The short stories’ ratings, when added up and divided by 13, end up being an average of 4.12. But I bumped my whole rating up by half a star because of the general cohesiveness of this anthology and how the stories really worked together, which is something I feel rarely happens.
I love how they intersected food and culture and sometimes romance. I think some people might be misled, thinking that this anthology is all romance, but in reality, it’s about different types of love.
It’s about love in different forms–platonic, romantic, and more. It’s not necessarily focused on one food in each short story–we get to see other foods and cultures show up in different stories.
Hungry Hearts has this overlap in the stories that really pulls it all together–so even though some stories might be mystery or thriller or a romance or a coming of age, they all work with each other to create a really well-rounded anthology that’s enjoyable and has a good flow.
That’s what really brought Hungry Hearts to a higher level for me, and I enjoyed that. Here’s my thoughts on the individual stories:
Rain by Sangu Mandanna
This was one of the few stories that wasn’t in first person, but rather third. Featuring themes of grief, Rain had a lot of self-reflection as Anna considered her family, her relationship with her father and family, and so much more. It was overall pretty cute and a good introduction to the Hungry Hearts Row (the location all the stories take place in) and I thought the self-meditative qualities of the story were its highlight. On the other hand, I did find the end to be a little short and cut off.
Kings and Queens by Elsie Chapman
This story was a total surprise, because in the second story, we’re already seeing some of the darker portions of the Hungry Hearts Row. Ming and her family are part of this “gang” of sorts called the Kings and Queens, and their family settled in the Hungry Hearts Row, but there are establishments all over.
And long story short, there’s death, revenge, loyalty, murder, and family and although this took the anthology on a temporary darker turn, I loved how Chapman mixed coming-of-age and family loyalty with this darker, more sinister theme.
The Grand Ishq Adventure by Sandhya Menon
THIS WAS ONE OF MY FAVORITES! It was just so cute omg–I should have expected Sandhya Menon’s story to be one of the ones that made me melt. The romance dynamics were adorable and although I guessed the twist, it didn’t make it any less sweet to read. There’s advice columns, Filipino Soup No. 5 (made of bull testes!), and a quest for bravery.
I think I might go on my own Grand Ishq Adventure one day–going to four restaurants and eating by myself without taking out a book or electronic device.
Sugar and Spice by Rin Chupeco
This is my lowest rated story, and the one I’m most conflicted on. I thought, plot-wise, it was a good story, but I also think there was something left to be desired with regards to the storytelling. It’s told in second person, which is one of the reasons I felt this big disconnect. (For those of you unfamiliar, it’s when “you” refers to the protagonist–i.e. “You walk to the door and turn the handle.”)
For me personally, it kind of hindered the story and made the reader more distanced from the story–at least in my case. However, I still liked the lolas and their approach and maternal nature, and I thought it had a lot of potential. Just wasn’t for me.
Moments to Return by Adi Alsaid
I loved how Moments to Return was a quieter, more meditative story.
It mixed culture, mental health, and emotions together, and I love how Alsaid set it up as a quest of sorts for the protagonist. It was definitely more emotional and less physical, but still packed that emotional gut punch with struggling with identity and searching for aid. I think this is a perfect embodiment of people coming to the Hungry Hearts Row temporarily, vs. permanent residents, and it provides another nice contrast in the anthology.
Content Warnings: non-suicidal thoughts of death & existence, mentions of panic attacks
The Slender One by Caroline Tung Richmond
Ghosts! I found The Slender One to be especially exciting, with not only themes on loss and family, but also a strong connection between Charlie and his grandmother, and the more action-packed struggle with ghosts who needed help getting peace.
Something else that really brought this next level for me was how Richmond portrayed Charlie struggling with acting different at home vs. at school and how culture plays into that. I totally related to this and thought it really made the story complete and relatable for me, which was lovely.
Gimme Some Sugar by Jay Coles
I really loved the soul food in this one (especially as we get to finally find out what’s at the restaurant Butter!) and the competition aspect was fun. The main character struggles with panic attacks, and he’s trying to win this cooking competition at the Hungry Hearts Row to pay for his mother’s medical bills.
It was a great concept, and my main peeve is that this had so much potential, but I don’t think the stakes were toyed with enough. I felt like Coles could have really increased the pressure and made the stakes higher if he wanted to, and I felt like this was just a lost opportunity!
Content Warnings: anxiety, use of prescribed pills, panic attacks
The Missing Ingredient by Rebecca Roanhorse
I nearly screamed upon finishing this.
It’s definitely not a cute romcom, but it was deliciously dark and complex and had so many Real Stressful Family Feelings, that I couldn’t help but fall in love with it.
I don’t want to spoil anything, but I think Roanhorse played with the theme of family and how it’s okay to become separated from family sometimes really well, and the dark turns were absolutely shocking, yet a wonderful experience. This story left me speechless, and I loved the dark magic, blood, and seamlessness of the story.
Hearts à la Carte by Karuna Riazi
This was so cute ahh! I loved the twist midway (was not really expecting that, but I kind of should have) and I don’t want to say too much, but it was sweet and steady and not insta-love but still very cute.
I liked how everything was gradual and how the main character was down to earth, yet still open to romance, which was a rare combination. It was enjoyable and cute and I totally wish this one was its own novel because AHH
Bloom by Phoebe North
Romance AND bagels. I am won over.
I’d like to point out that my main thought from this is that I’m not sure that Simon (the hipster white boy English major guy the MC dated) isn’t three toddlers in a trench coat. It hasn’t been disproved, y’know.
But one of my favorite parts about this story is how the main character isn’t the most goal oriented–she doesn’t know if she wants to go to college. She doesn’t know where she’s going. This was really refreshing from those super ambitious main characters that you frequently see.
A Bountiful Film by S.K. Ali
I loved the female friendship in this novel and the curious mystery in the novel! I definitely wasn’t expecting the mystery element to this, and reading the mystery was super interesting.
I did think it could have used more to balance it out on the emotional side–there was stuff happening physically, but I think the main character’s emotional journey that in theory mirrored her filmmaking was a bit underdeveloped.
Overall, it was cute, but not the most memorable piece in the anthology for me.
Side Work by Sara Farizan
I really liked the f/f romance, but I thought the conflict was a little vague. I realize that these are all short stories, but it was a lot about a new chain restaurant moving across the street and potentially losing customers, but I felt like the threat of closing wasn’t very strong, and that the emotional journey of the story needed some clarification.
I wasn’t really sure what the emotional journey was–I know she had issues with her parents, romance, but it wasn’t super cohesive for me.
Panadería ~ Pastelería by Anna-Marie McLemore
We have been building up to this short story for the whole anthology–the shy teenager at the pastelería who made all these pastries that people didn’t know they need. And it was just as beautiful as I expected (it’s Anna-Marie McLemore, of course!) with a trans boy as a love interest, lots of romance, and cakes that spill out your guts.
It was beautiful and sweet and romantic, and the main character is super shy, yet not distanced from the reader, which I loved. A perfect closing to the anthology.