You know when you see a cover and then you read a blurb and you get that feeling? That feeling that says, “I’ve found something special”…This book gave me that feeling, and it was completely what I expected. More even. Well written, engaging, moving, funny, emotionally clever, endearing and with strong lessons about life. This is the kind of Young Adult story that really adds value to a young person’s perpective, makes them see the world a little differently. And for grown ups like me, well, it’s always nice to read something this good.
Here’s To You, Zeb Pike, is a story about the mountains that life puts before us, and how some are for us to climb and conquer and others are there to show us that walking away is sometimes they best way to triumph. Dusty Porter is a young man who has had to sacrifice too much of his childhood to the neglect of his parents. His story made me question how it is some people can be so weak and so cruel in their selfishness, and others can amaze us with their fortitude and resilience. Some people really are innately good, some are innately bad, and in this world a lot of times those two things play out very unfairly. I loved Dusty’s stregth and his selflessness. The way he cared for this brother and sister on his own, and kept his family intact as much as he could for as long as he could. It’s hard to say how any of us would face adversity, and sadly too many kids in this country, in this world, have to make too many hard decisions every single day.
For Dusty I needed to make something comforting and delicious, the kind of food that makes me feel warm inside. I decided to go with Vegan Mac and Cheez with Roasted Garlicky Romanesco, and a Lentil and Walnut Loaf. This food is PERFECT for the cold days coming, and is completely vegan and gluten free. I decided to forego the alcoholic selectionon this one, since this book is for Young Adults.
Dusty Porter, has everything UNDER CONTROL. He’s fourteen (almost fifteen actually), and is pretty much single handedly raising his eight year old brother, and six year old sister. Sure, he’s tired, and he is constantly stressed out about the school authorities finding out that his dad is pretty much out of the picture, and that his mom constantly disappears for months at a time. It’s a kind of a lot for one person to handle, but what else can he do? Someone has to care for Matt and Julia. He’s good at it too, as long as his mom comes by every once in a while to bring some food, and pay rent he can get himself and the kids to school, fed, cleaned up and all the other things that need doing. He’s not bitter or anything, it’s been this way so long he can hardly remember a time when he didn’t see his dad only when he was desparate, and needed money to eat. Couldn’t recall not being filled with dread that this time his mom would just stay gone for good. Things were not rosy, he knew that, that constant feeling that they were one more selfish act from his “so called” parents from ending on the street, the pressure of making sure no one finds out he’s alone with the kids, was enough to undo him…And then there’s the whole “I might like boys” thing…Nothing is easy for Dusty. EVER.
Things suck, but at least he’s got the routine down pat, then Julia gets sick, needs surgery for appendicits and his cover gets blown in a major way. He has to come clean and admit that his parents are completely out of the picture, have been for awhile, he doens’t even know how to get in touch with his mom, and his dad wouldn’t even come to see Julia at the hospital. He’s so afraid that he’ll be split up from his siblings, afraid he’ll be uprooted from Colorado Springs, the only place he’s ever known. He thought he could conquer this, that he could scale up this treacherous mountain of responsibility, but the jig is up. Everything is out of his hands. Out of nowhere an uncle appears in Vermont. He didn’t even know his mom had a brother! The guy and his wife want to take all three of them to Vermont. Dusty doesn’t like this one bit. His life is getting completely uprooted and he’s just like a prop or something, no say in a sigle thing.
His uncle Jack and his wife Beth are nice people, that’s true, and have a nice house with rooms for all of them, and everything is “lovely”. Matt and Julia are as happy as clams, they are getting attention and order, but Dusty is not having it. He can’t trust it! These people all of a sudden want to take over raising his brother and sister, and push him aside, they’re HIS family! It’s too much. Too much. New town, new school (where his uncle works!), new EVERYTHING. Then there’s Emmit, oh God…Emmit, the high school hockey star, who’s been showing him around the school for the first few days. Emmit is beautiful and nice…SO NICE. SO BEAUTIFUL. SO STRAIGHT. Dusty just stares, and tries not to drool. Things are just so damn confusing…He’s got to do something about it, because if there is something that Dusty KNOWS is that whenever things can go wrong,THEY ALWAYS DO. But slowly with the the steadiness of his uncle, the friendships that he forges with Emmit and his brother Casey things become less overwhelming…Maybe things really could be ok.
I loved a lot of things about this book. The solid writing, easy and efficent. No frills or wasted words. Dusty as a narrator just stole my heart, his young voice and mind was so spot on, so wise and clear at times, and others so lost and in need of guidance. I felt so angry for him, for that fact that he didn’t even know what it was like to be a kid or a teen. He didn’t know how unfair it was what his parents did to him. Everything about Dusty called to my protective instincts. This book was obviously written from a place of deep caring. The author was writing a story she knows, form the first page I knew Dusty so well.
What I loved the MOST though, was how elegantly this book showed us very harsh realities. Particularly for the young adults reading this story it will be an eye-opening experience. There are sad parts, angering moments, dispappointing bits, and moments of real grimmness. But there is also youthful JOY and hope. Dusty can still hope, he can still HOPE. The thought that even after having lived through so much hardship, people can be resilient. Even if that optmisim is fragile at first, they can reach for a better future. Romance is not the center of this story, the center is Dusty. His past and his future. His old family and his new family. How things have been for him, and finally how they could be. Because in the end Dusty has to make a decision, he can try to hang on to everything that was, or he can give this new chance that he’s been given a shot. That’s not to say we don’t get to see things evolve for Dusty. Dusty was a wonder and every other character in this book had a quiet strength that made for a very solid story.
All in all this is pure heartwarming goodness to the fullest, with excellent writing, and a whole lot of soul. I completely recommend and I’m excited to see what else will come from this author in the future.
Here’s To You, Zeb Pike is available for pre-order here, and will be out on November 7th. I really encourage everyone to give this book a try, it won’t let you down! Check back in on Thursday, to read an interview with the Johanna Parkhurst where she answers question about her inspiration for Dusty, her future plans and how she ended up as an YA LGBT author.
Vegan Mac & Cheeze With Roasted Garlicky Romanesco (adapted from Oh She Glows Blog)
Yield: 4 servings or 1.5 cups of cheeze sauce
- 1 fresh butternut squash* (peeled and chopped)
- Extra virgin olive oil, S & P
- 1 Romanesco head, chopped
- Cooking spray
- 3/4 cup unsweetened & unflavoured almond milk
- 6 tbsp nutritional yeast, or more to taste
- 3/4 cup of raw cashews
- 2 TB Dijon mustard
- 1 TB Turmeric
- 1 TB Paprika
- 1/4-3/4 tsp garlic powder
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 4 leaves of fresh sage
- 1/2-1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1/2-1 tsp kosher salt (to taste) & ground black pepper, to taste
- 4 servings of corn flour (brown rice works too) macaroni (8oz or half a 16oz package) makes 3 1/4 cup cooked
1. Preheat oven to 425F. Line a casserole dish with tin foil. Mix chopped squash and romanesco with EVOO, salt and pepper, two sliced garlic cloves and the sage leaves. Roast for about 40 minutes, uncovered, or until tender.
2. Meanwhile, prepare the cheeze sauce. Gorund the cashews in the food processor until it looks like course flour. In a bowl mix milk, nutriotional yeast, spices. lemon juice, and remaining cloves minces. Add to processor and then leave there, because you will add squash it’s done.
3. Cook your pasta according to package directions. The sauce makes enough to cover 4 servings of pasta.
4. Once squash and romanesco are done, take squash, sage and garlic and blend with the rest of the sauce. Leave romanesco out to toss once sauce and macaroni have been mized.
5. Add cooked, drained, and rinsed macaroni into pot, along with cheeze sauce & romanesco in a casserole, bake uncovered for 15 minutes at 350F.
DELISH Lentil and Walnut Loaf (recipe adapted from Oh She Glows Blog)
Yield: 1 large loaf
- 1 cup uncooked green lentils
- 1 cup walnuts, finely chopped and toasted
- 3 tbsp ground flax + 1/2 cup water
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1.5 cups diced sweet onion
- 1 cup diced celery
- 1 cup grated carrot
- 1/3 cup peeled and grated sweet apple (use a firm variety)
- 1/3 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup oat flour
- 3/4 cup breadcrumbs (used EZEKIEL Gluten Free bread)
- 2 tsp fresh thyme (or 3/4 tsp dried thyme)
- salt & pepper, to taste
- red pepper flakes, to taste
Balsamic Apple Glaze:
- 1/4 cup ketchup
- 1 tbsp pure maple syrup
- 2 tbsp apple butter (I used homemade, but applasauce works too)
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1. Preheat oven to 325F. Rinse and strain lentils. Place lentils into pot along with 3 cups of water (or veg broth). Bring to a boil and season with salt. Reduce heat to medium/low and simmer, uncovered, for at least 40-45 minutes. Stir frequently & add touch of water if needed. The goal is to over-cook the lentils slightly (see pictures in post). Mash lentils slightly with a spoon when ready.
2. Toast walnuts at 325F for about 8-10 minutes. Set aside. Increase oven temp to 350F.
3. Whisk ground flax with water in a small bowl and set aside.
4. Heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sautee the garlic and onion for about 5 minutes. Season with salt. Now add in the diced celery, shredded carrot and apple, and raisins. Sautee for about 5 minutes more. Remove from heat.
5. In a large mixing bowl, mix all ingredients together. Adjust seasonings to taste.
6. Grease a loaf pan and line with parchment paper. Press mixture firmly into pan. Whisk glaze ingredients and then spread half on top of loaf. Reserve the rest for a dipping sauce.
7. Bake at 350F for 40-50 minutes, uncovered. Edges will be lightly brown. Cool in pan for at least 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. I usually wait until loaf is cool before slicing.