A YA Anthology About Food And Culture? Yes, Please

by Sona Charaipotra
Simon Pulse

What's better that books? Books and food, of course. That’s why authors Caroline Tung Richmond and Elsie Chapman paired up to create the YA anthology Hungry Hearts, a collection of teen stories that center around food as culture and creation. And it all started — as so many things do these days — on Twitter.

“We were actually tweeting each other when the idea for this anthology came along,” Elsie Chapman tells Bustle. “We were having a conversation about books like The Joy Luck Club and Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, books that explored Chinese American parents and how they related to their kids. And I remember wishing there was a YA anthology about parents and kids and how culture comes into play."

Chapman had just co-edited an anthology Asian-inspired retellings – A Thousand Beginnings and Endings with Ellen Oh, and so she proposed creating one that focused on family.

"It was a multi-step and very collaborative process, starting with brainstorming our anthology’s common theme,” Caroline Tung Richmond says. “We settled upon food pretty quickly because it played such a big role in our lives as kids of immigrants and because we love to eat."

Hungry Heart is scheduled to hit shelves in the June 18, 2019, and features stories by YA authors like S.K. Ali, Rin Chupeco, Jay Coles, and Anna-Marie McLemore.

Bustle has an exclusive first look at the anthology’s gorgeous cover — with images by artist Jess Cruickshank, and design by Heather Palisi-Reyes — plus an excerpt which you can read below.

The Grand Ishq Adventure

By Sandhya Menon

Love is both a recurring theme in my life and the greatest pain in my butt.

My name, Neha (pronounced Nay-ha, btw), means love. I’m also the love advice columnist—aka Dr. Ishq — for the library’s teen blog here in Rowbury. My pen name, if you haven’t already guessed, means ‘love’ in Urdu. And the great love of my life (not that he knows it, ahem), Prem? His name means love, too.

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I know what you’re thinking just based on the fact that our parents cosmically decided to give us names that mean the exact same thing — we’re meant to be. Right? That’s what I thought, too. But I don’t anymore.

See, I’ve been volunteering at the library for two years. Prem’s the photographer for the blog, so he’s here every day that I am. For almost two whole years, I’ve been smiling at him. Flirting (totally ineptly—I can dish out the advice, but my secret is that I can’t actually do it). Asking about him. And what have I got in return? Stiff smiles. Vacant responses. Averted eyes.

I know what you’re thinking just based on the fact that our parents cosmically decided to give us names that mean the exact same thing — we’re meant to be.

Prem’s only a year older than me — he graduated high school last year and is doing his gap year now — but his photographs have already won some major awards. He probably thinks I’m just some talentless hack with my advice column that’s read by all one hundred and fifty-two teens in Rowbury and a few across the country. And, as if his limitless talent wasn’t bad enough, he’s also such a kind-hearted person.

I still remember the first time I saw him. Two summers ago, I was covering Rowbury’s music and food festival Tunes and Spoons for the (then brand new) blog, when I came across a booth for Children of the City, a charity that raises money for underprivileged kids interested in the arts. Anyway, I was immediately drawn in by this Indian boy at the booth who was being completely mobbed by a seething crowd of young kids. They were pawing through his collection of pictures (of dogs and cats mid-sneeze), rapid-fire asking him a million questions, and pulling on his shirt to get his attention. Just seeing all that frenzied, kiddie energy made me sweat, but Prem talked to them all calmly, smiling and patient. The kids’ parents were so charmed that they donated a lot of money. I heard later that Prem had raised over eight thousand dollars that weekend; more than Children of the City had ever managed to raise at one event. It’s no wonder he’s starting as their campaign and brand manager this fall.

Prem never saw me that day, but anytime I see him now, I can’t help but remember how he looked sitting there, his sun-dappled skin, his patient smile.

Kill me now. How am I ever supposed to get over my crush if he keeps doing stuff like that?

Okay, focus. I need to work on the newest letter that came in today.

Dear Dr. Ishq (it says),

I love your column. I read it every week, and I have since you started. I think what inspires me the most about your advice is that it’s usually about more than love. You always try to improve the letter writer’s life, too, by helping them step out of their comfort zones. Anyway, all that to say I find myself in sore need of your help now.

See, there’s this person I really like. They’re perfect for me. We’re the same age, we share similar interests, they like to talk to me (I think? I’ve never been too good at reading those cues. Why isn’t there a handbook?). So what’s the problem, you ask? It’s me, Dr. Ishq.

Whenever I’m around this person, I completely freeze up. Like, it’s not cute or funny. I probably come across as an arrogant jerk or like I’m on drugs. Neither of which I’m going for, FYI.

So what do you suggest, Dr. Ishq? How does someone like me—a total control freak in most areas of my life—become such a jelly-filled doormat when it comes to the object of my affections?

You have an amazing ability to shake people out of stasis and into action, so please, please help me. I don’t want to lose any more time.



I sit back and study the letter again. I’ve gotten pretty good at reading between the lines, at seeing what people are really like by the phrases they use.

Ansella, for instance, describes herself as a ‘control freak’ and asks to be ‘shaken’ into action. She wants to be taken out of her comfort zone, to stop being afraid.

To be completely honest, I can relate more than a little. Control freak afraid to step out of her comfort zone? Once I refused to set foot into an empty study room in which Prem was looking at his pictures because that amount of close contact might cause me to spontaneously combust from desire. It might have been the perfect opportunity to laugh at his jokes and compliment his pictures and casually-but-calculatedly tell him a few photography facts I’ve memorized, but noooo. That was too scary. So what did I do instead? I worked on the blog’s SEO. S freaking EO. I’m not even kidding. So, yeah. Control freak issues: check. Needs someone to shake her into action? How many times have I wished I could have my own personal genie appear, and somehow just magic me into taking a teeny, tiny step toward telling Prem how I feel? Check. It wouldn’t be completely overdramatic to say I completely, absolutely feel Ansella’s letter to my hollow, Prem-less core.

To be completely honest, I can relate more than a little. Control freak afraid to step out of her comfort zone?

I flex my fingers and begin typing, using the same format I use for every response:

Dear Ansella,

Diagnosis: Self-defeating cowardice in the face of the possibility of great love.

Prescription: 4 acts of bravery over the course of the next week. A grand ishq adventure, if you will.

Prognosis: Excellent.

I believe, Ansella, that you’re not a coward at heart. Not at all. It’s clear to me from your letter that you’re actually aching for adventure, for a chance to lasso what your heart desires and finally be free. I suspect you just need a nudge in the right direction.

So here’s what I propose: Every day for the next four days, I want you to eat—alone—at a different restaurant. And not just any boring old safe restaurant you’re already used to. I want you to visit a restaurant you’ve never visited before, to try a cuisine you’ve never tasted. Bonus points if you’re nervous about it. Oh, and put your devices away. I want you to be focused on the flavors of the food in front of you, the world around you, and the feelings inside you.

Here’s the thing: As a culture, we’re conditioned to surround ourselves with friends and acquaintances. If we have to sit by ourselves—say, at a café or in the airport—we immediately whip out our phones or tablets. We’re afraid to just sit with ourselves. So I think starting by being brave enough to be by yourself will be a good launching point.

And why different cuisines? I believe great food and great self-esteem pave the path to great love. Eating foods you’re unfamiliar with is an instant connection to a culture you may otherwise not explore or even think about at all. And who knows? When you’re in that restaurant eating a food you can’t pronounce the name of, you may just realize you’re a lot braver than you think. You may just realize that the one you love is waiting for you to speak up.

So go forth, dear Ansella, and embark on your grand ishq adventure.

And here’s something new—I promise to take up the same challenge, too.

— Dr. Ishq