Stir Me Up
I was a bit tentative about picking up Sabrina Elkins’ Stir Me Up because I knew it was about a girl who wanted to be a chef. While I LOVE to eat, I don’t love to cook and had no interest in reading about the minutia of food preparation. I needn’t have worried. Rather than weighing it down, food played just the right role in this delightful story of first, real love.
High school senior Cami Broussard has spent her entire life in the kitchen of her father’s French restaurant, Etoile, so it’s natural that all she wants to do after graduation is become a chef. Too bad her father disagrees. Knowing how hard the life of a professional chef is, especially when it comes to having a family, he’s pushing Cami to go to college and get a degree. Add the pressure that her boyfriend, Luke, is putting on her to have sex, and Cami feels more than a little confused about what she wants out of life. Things reach a head when she’s told that she’s going to have to give up her bedroom so that her stepmother’s adopted son can move in and recuperate after a tragic injury.
Julian was badly wounded when his Marine unit encountered an IED while stationed in Afghanistan. He lost the lower portion of his right leg and suffers from PTSD and survivor’s guilt. He’s angry at the entire world, and anyone who crosses his path is a fair target for his foul attitude, including the annoying girl whose room he now occupies. She keeps sneaking into the room in the middle of the night so that she can slip out the window to make time with her boyfriend. Plus she’s always trying to talk to him and he really just wants to be left alone.
Cami refuses to tiptoe around Julian, thinking that giving him her room was sacrifice enough. At first the two do nothing more than hurl insults at each other. But as Julian comes to terms with his new life situation, he and Cami begin to really talk to each other. Cami’s confusion about her evolving feelings for the handsome Marine sleeping in her room mixed with her growing disinterest in Luke add to the chaos that is her life.
Both Cami and Julian are very likable characters. Granted, in the beginning, Julian’s attitude and treatment of those around him who are only trying to help is downright rude and horrible. But because of what he’s going through, it’s easier to give him a pass and some time to turn things around and show us readers his good side, the same as he eventually does to Cami. Cami’s ability to give Julian as good as she gets is refreshing. No wounded, pouting waif here, but rather a strong girl able to stand up for herself.
Elkins does a fantastic job of capturing the uncertainty that so many young people feel when they are leaving behind the safety of their school years and a life that has been so carefully planned for them. Cami thinks she knows what she wants – to be a chef – but others around her claim to know better. I liked how Julian refused to participate in Cami’s decision about what to do after graduation, recognizing that they are both very young, and that making plans around and for each other would be a mistake despite how much they want to be together. Certainly he offers his advice, but he steps back and gives her the space to come to her own conclusions.
Julian’s injury was handled realistically. The slow, painful process of healing and then learning to use first a temporary and then a permanent prosthesis rang true, as did Cami’s interest in and acceptance of his amputated limb. I appreciated that while Julian’s injury was not ignored or glossed over, Elkins didn’t use his injury to define him or make that the center of his personality. At first it was all he could focus on, exactly what I imagine would be the case in a real-life situation. But as he accepts his new self, his old interests and personality begin to re-emerge.
As I said in my introduction, I’m not a foodie, so the amount of food and cooking references were just right for me – not too much that I felt the need to skim over stuff I would have found boring but enough that Cami’s skills felt authentic. The pressures of working in the kitchen of a high-end restaurant were intense, a real glimpse behind the scenes if you will. Too, I was aware that there exists a hierarchy in the positions of the cooking staff, but this story really showed me how serious this business is.
My one nitpick, and the reason this wasn’t an B+ read for me, has to do with the ending. I can’t say much so as not to spoil things, but a lot of lucky coincidences occur that I found to be a bit unrealistic.
Currently, this book is only available as an e-version. I hope that if it continues to get positive reviews, it will soon be made available in print. Because Stir Me Up is a great story with two very likeable characters who evolve from mutual dislike to a true, realistic young love. I recommend it as an easy read about that elusive time between childhood and adulthood, when anything is possible but it’s almost impossible to know what you truly want.