All Four Stars by Tara Dairman
11-year old Gladys loves to cook, but her parents eat take-out and don’t have the first clue about cooking. Gladys does most of her cooking in secret after school before they come home from work. They would prefer she have more friends and do more typical kid activities. When she accidentally sets the kitchen on fire while making creme brulee, she is temporarily banned from cooking. Meanwhile, she gets an assignment at school to write about her passion. She hands in the essay as a cover letter applying for her dream job: restaurant critic for a big New York City newspaper. Through a series of mishaps, the essay ends up in the hands of the food editor and Gladys is hired via email to write a freelance review of a downtown bakery! Now she has to find a way to get downtown to visit the bakery without her parents finding out. In her quest to get to the bakery, Gladys ends up making new friends and enriching her solitary life. This is a charming read, with lots of humor. The characters and situations are mostly over-the-top (her parents start out like caricatures but are portrayed more realistically by the end of the book), but it is great fun and Gladys does grow as a person and develop real relationships as a result of her scheming. The book also introduces a number of foods from exotic locales, including Asia, and includes a recipe at the end. As someone who enjoys cooking and baking, I found it especially appealing. The book is followed by two more: The Stars of Summer and Stars So Sweet.