4.3 out of 5 Stars
This book was astonishing in its subtleties and accuracy about life, at least, from what I could tell. I feel like I should write a short punny line about how it was "a delicious book" that "satisfied my appetite for the story," but so many people have probably done that already at this point that it's been overdone and honestly I don't feel clever enough at the moment to cook up something new.
Really though, this book is incredible. The characters are so complicated and each is unique to themselves in a way that echoes and highlights what Tess is learning as she lives in New York. What I really love about this book, however, is that even though I know nothing- and I mean nothing- about fancy wine and foods, I was still able to enjoy the story without feeling stupid for not knowing what was being talked about. If anything, I feel like I was able to learn more about wine connoisseurship- please don't ask me anything because I still know next to nothing- and develop an appreciation for what goes into making wine and the different tastes that are created.
I picked this book up because I was intrigued by the trailer for the Starz TV show Sweetbitter. I am planning on continuing watching the show, and I read this while between episodes, but this review is going to be on the book alone. Later though, when the series is finished, I think I'll review that as well.
This is definitely a coming-of-age story. It begins with Tess packing up her things and finding a crappy apartment in New York City. There she gets a job while she figures out who she wants to be but ends up falling in love with the industry. It's sort of like a DIY version of Cinderella where instead of falling for the prince, Cinderella makes her own outfit for the ball and constructs her own castle. It may not be as grand as some other castles, but she loves it and it is home. It really is a great story about navigating how to make a life for yourself that doesn't follow the safe laid-out plan that you had before. Tess is a very relatable character, even though she is annoying at times, and the experiences that she goes through read very realistically. I'm curious to know if the author's own narrative is leaked through the narrative of Tess, but even if it isn't, the events unfold in a way that could probably actually happen.
What this book does a really great job of though is carrying messages and lessons without being vague, or worse, pretentious. Some of Simone's lines are pretentious, but she's messed up and pretentious anyway, so it still goes with the flow of the story. One of my favorite quotes though, and it may be from Simone, is, "I’m giving you permission to take yourself seriously. To take the stuff of this world seriously. And to start having. That’s abundance." I'm not entirely sure what about the quote speaks to me the most, but the way it is incorporated into the dialogue makes it unassuming, yet profoundly resonating.
Tess: The first thing that comes to my mind is that she is very relatable- ordinary. This works perfectly for the story, especially as a coming-of-age novel. The second thing that comes to mind is annoying. I really hated how she behaved like a child at times. She would go and do something stupid and then not like the consequences. Or something would go wrong and she'd have an excuse why. It was just the small things like this that I really didn't like, and I don't like them in person either, so that's probably why. Overall though, she was able to be a consistent character while still growing throughout the story into something that I think would have a very bright future. My absolute favorite thing about her though is when she tells Simone that she quits. This is right after Simone tells her she'll be promoted to the "Smokehouse," and Tess has absolutely had enough. Good for her for standing her ground and choosing the risky over the certainty.
Simone: Simone kind of makes me sick at this point, reading the whole of the story. She irked me for most of the book just with her personality, but there was a point where I was worried about why she is the way she is. But then Sasha reveals what she did to Jake while they were younger and I don't particularly care anymore. I know that it isn't entirely clear what about the story Sasha shares is real versus not real, and that details are probably still missing, but I can't think about that. I just feel bad for Jake.
Jake: He is the character that when I closed the last page, I felt the most sadness for. Everything that he does can be explained by the story that Sasha tells if we as readers take it to be true. In that case, I think that at this point in the story, the portion of time that Sweetbitter tells, Tess would have been the best chance Jake had to get better. By that, I mean less wrapped around Simone in a weird twisted way. The minutia of his character is extraordinary with the way that the details of him and his past are revealed. As odd as it might be to say this, I hope Jake has a better future, away from Simone. (I know he's fictional but still.)
Like I've already said, I think this book does an incredible job of integrating amazing lines and quotes without being obnoxious about it. What I really want to point out though is the fragments that are interspersed over the course of the story. We get definitions of food jargon and random poems that are nearly nonsensical. I really enjoyed these, although I'm not entirely sure what purpose they held. It just makes the story easier to digest. It also makes it unique from other coming-of-age stories. The reader isn't just learning about Tess's story- they have a snippet of what she is actually learning that adds depth to the story being told.
Thanks for reading!