Xolo Score 4.25/5
In Arsenic and Adobo, protagonist Lila Macapagal returns to her small town of Shady Palms to help save her Tita's struggling restaurant. As Lila tries to balance the embarrassment about moving back home and a strong sense of familial duty, her entire world is thrown off course when her Tita's restaurant is the crime scene for murder, and she becomes the primary suspect. Fueled by her distrust of the authorities and stubbornness to see her family acquitted and back to running their restaurant Lila and her best friend Adeena join forces to solve this murder-mystery all while enjoying several delicious meals along the way.
*** SPOILERS AHEAD ***
As a protagonist, Lila plays a considerable role in making the story fun and relatable. She is stumbling through her mid-twenties and is just trying to make the best out of her current living situation. Lila is a natural baker and loves mixing her Filipino heritage with contemporary American baking. And although Lila's passion and determination are admirable, she still makes a lot of mistakes that impact other characters' emotions. She's written in a very grounded way, and the reader understands that she is still growing and trying to be a better friend, niece, etc.
Mia P. Manansala also does an exceptional job of exploring the nuances of different immigrant cultures through the different generations in the novel. Lila is the center of the story, but through her keen ear for tsismis the reader gets in-depth character insights into the many auxiliary immigrant characters. It's not surprising that the younger generation struggles to meet familial expectations and reconcile with their hyphenated identity. But Manansala gives this common trope a new dimension by humanizing the older characters who have been surviving in a new country and are not privy to the unintended harm that impacts their family. The best way their generation knows to express their undying love for their family is through each delicious bite of their favorite family recipes.
And although this is a crime fiction novel Manansala does not shy away from realistic topics surrounding Lila and her community. Manasala dives into the nuances of substance abuse and has Lila learn that it could happen to anyone. Lila also constantly challenges Detective Park and the authorities because they are unwilling to consider other suspects. And Manansala briefly teases a possible love triangle between Lila, Adeena's brother, and Detective Park's younger brother. Still, it never overshadows the importance of maintaining familial and non-romantic personal relationships with others.
Mia P. Manansala's murder-mystery novel is a wonderfully delicious story about family, culture, and food. SO MUCH FOOD.
To what extent are there BIPOC leading characters or perspectives?
How well does the author avoid writing BIPOC experiences through the white gaze?
To what extent does the author challenge white-centered beliefs?
How well does the book explore nuances between intersectional identities?