Review: Lessons in Fusion

Lessons in Fusion

by Primrose Madayag Knazan

Yellow Dog (imprint of Great Plains Publishing)

Category: Young Adult
Reviewer: Heidi Rabinowitz

Canadian teen food blogger Sarah (pronounced SAH-rah, the Hebrew way) becomes a contestant on the TV show Cyber Chef, where she is strongly encouraged to explore the cuisine of her mother's Filipinx culture despite having been raised mostly in the Jewish traditions of her father's side. While she likes the opportunity to learn more about her heritage, she also feels somewhat unseen by the show's producers. She achieves true fusion when she finally embraces both her cultures, as a person and in her cooking.
The story takes place during the COVID-19 pandemic, and leans into the quarantine scenario by depicting a cooking show that is filmed in the homes of the contestants and judges. As a reviewer, this is the first YA novel I've seen to use the pandemic as a setting, and I'm pleased that this worldwide experience is finally being reflected in our literature. The book is also unique in its approach to ethnic identity, highlighting the constant battle we all face against letting others define us. A growth mindset is role modeled by Sarah as she learns new recipes and family history, by her mother as she lets go of past hurts, and by various characters as they accept their mistakes in dealing with race and make efforts to do better. Representation here is consciously diverse (a goal of the TV program), including Canadians of Afro-Caribbean, Métis, Chinese, Black, white, and Filipinx descent, as well as queer characters.
Multiple points of view and points in time can be slightly confusing, but the emotional pull of the story is strong enough to get readers through it all. The extreme detail of the included recipes is a plus for those who may want to try them, and they are easily skimmed by others who may be less patient. 
Finding a balance between multiple heritages is an authentic experience for many modern Jews (and others). It is pleasing to read a story in which a character's Jewish identity is strong and unquestioned, serving as a firm foundation upon which additional aspects of identity can be built. Like Aimee Lucido's recent middle grade novel Recipe for Disaster, Lesson in Fusion uses food as an accessible and enjoyable entry point to explore deeper questions of heritage and identity. 
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Reviewer Heidi Rabinowitz is one of the co-admins of The Sydney Taylor Shmooze, along with Susan Kusel and Chava Pinchuck. She hosts The Book of Life Podcast: A Show About Jewish Kidlit (Mostly) at Heidi is Past President of the Association of Jewish Libraries, and Library Director at Congregation B'nai Israel of Boca Raton, Florida.