Title: Pen & Xander
Author: Laekan Zea Kemp
Publication Date: October 31st, 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pen Prado has a passion for cooking. Specifically, cooking her father's food in her father's restaurant. It's the heart of their immigrant neighborhood, a place where everyone belongs, and second chances are always on the menu. Except for Pen. Despite the fact that there's something almost magic about her food, her father can't imagine anything worse than her following in his footsteps. And when Pen confesses to keeping a secret from her family, he fires her, ensuring she never will.
Xander Amaro is undocumented but that doesn't stop Ignacio Prado from offering him a job at his restaurant. For Xander, it's a chance to make amends and to sever his toxic relationship with the druglord, El Cantil--a man whose been like a father to him since his own disappeared. Soon after, his mother abandoned him too, leaving behind a void that not even his abuelo can fill.
Until he meets Pen. Both seeking a place where they feel like they truly belong, they end up finding each other, and in the face of tremendous fear and self-doubt, they end up finding themselves.
*I received this book for free, in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own!*
Pen's father has owned a Mexican restaurant for as long as she can remember and her dream is to take over one day. Apart from serving real Mexican food for the neighborhood, Nacho's is also the place where struggling teens are given a second chance in life and an escape from the dangerous criminal, who forces them into prostitution, drug-dealing and any sort of criminal activity. It's become a sanctuary for everyone who needs to get away and since Pen's father has connections everywhere, things run smoothly, there are no problems with people who don't have legal documents and those that haven't been registered, don't have to be afraid of someone reporting them to the authorities. Which is what the local criminal uses against them, in order to get these terrified people to work for him and do his dirty work. He gives them false hope and then blackmails them with it.
Pen has cooked her whole life and wants to follow on her parents' footsteps, even though they insist on her attending university and getting a degree that will help her get away from that uncertain life. When that doesn't work out and Pen comes clean to her parents for her decision to focus on cooking and coming up with new recipes, they fire her from the restaurant and kick her out of the house. Which slowly sets her on her own path in life and forces her to give up on her dreams for a while.
Xander has fallen into El Cantil's grasp, slowly but surely and is trying to get away from the violent life that follows the way of crime. He finds refuge in Nacho's and as soon as he meets Pen, it's love at first sight. Sparks fly between them and their feelings for each other are pure and untainted by everything that is inevitably going on around them. They stay together through the difficult parts and don't only recognize, but also understand each other's pain. The chemistry between them is undeniable and their love able to withstand anything that threatens it with corruption.
I was pleasantly surprised by Pen & Xander, I'm not going to lie. The premise sounded very interesting and diverse from the beginning and I went into it without really knowing what to expect. The story started off a bit slow and the pace wasn't as consistent as I would've liked but, it definitely got better as it progressed. That was my only issue with the book itself, since the writing was amazing and the characters more than likable and easy to connect with. Their struggles where extremely relatable since, the majority - if not all - of us have struggled with life and are still trying to push through the difficult parts of it!
The writing style was probably my favorite part! I haven't read any of the author's other novels but, I really want to, after falling in love with her storytelling abilities! The way she writes is extremely unique and since I have a thing with words in general, the way she weaved them together throughout the book itself made me wish for more! I was definitely impressed and the experience of reading this book reached a different level of greatness, thanks to the way it was written!
As for the characters, I really enjoyed getting to know them. Pen and Xander were very easy to relate to as struggling teens and their love story was one of the most beautiful parts of this book. It was so pure, full of hope and dreams that shined through every single page. Their journey is more than wonderful and filled with heartbreak, grief, disappointment, that lead to inner peace, tranquility and fulfillment in the end! Those small things that are worth fighting for are highlighted throughout their path to unfiltered happiness!
Pen & Xander is all about the importance and following your destiny, even if the process is painful. Their story was powerful and their love for each other, made me believe in happily ever afters again. Community itself, both as a literal and metaphorical term, plays a big part in this book and I couldn't have been more grateful about it. The strength of each individual was merged into one, in order to fight the evil in this world. Something that's usually overshadowed by things of lesser importance so, I'm extremely grateful Ms. Kemp didn't let that happen in her novel!
And what Pen's father did for everyone else made me wish there were more people like him in the world we live in! Not everyone would have the guts provide refuge for all those people, who were just trying to get away from a life of violence, make ends meet and live in peace. And kept doing it for many years, which is even more admirable. Acts of kindness, that's what this world needs. In abundance.
Overall, if you enjoy coming of age story, beautiful storytelling and characters you cannot help but admire and relate with, this book is for you! I cannot recommend it enough!
See you in 2018!