Vibrant Cuban cuisine, a slow-burn romance, and plenty of coziness are all on the menu in A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow (Atheneum), Laura Taylor Namey’s new novel about a Cuban American teen baker from Miami who travels to England to visit family friends for a summer of healing and reinvention.
The book debuted in the #3 slot on the November 29 New York Times young adult hardcover bestseller list following its publication on November 10, the same day that actress Reese Witherspoon selected the title as the Reese’s Book Club YA Pick for November. Hollywood has taken notice of A Cuban Girl’s Guide and it’s currently “being shopped around,” according to her publisher. And after a first printing of 9,000 copies, S&S has gone back to print twice, bringing the in-print total to 41,500 copies.
In A Cuban Girl’s Guide, 17-year-old Lila is at her lowest when she lands in Winchester, England, following a trio of heartbreaking losses: the death of her abuela, the end of her relationship with her boyfriend, and her best friend bailing on their post-graduation plans. But she eventually hits the reset button for her future by embracing the charm of the English countryside and making a new friend in teashop clerk Orion, who becomes her personal tour guide and more. Throughout, readers are treated to tempting descriptions of food and Winchester, as Lila cooks in the kitchen at the inn run by her honorary tía Cate, and Orion helps Lila envision what her new life could be.
Namey stoked anticipation for her book’s release with a pre-publication offer featuring personalized books and swag including bookmarks, stickers, buttons, and a recipe card. And, as tea figures prominently in the tale, Seattle-based Friday Afternoon Tea created a special blend—in collaboration with Namey—called Sweaters and Stars to pair with the book. S&S arranged several virtual author appearances and a blogger outreach campaign for the launch; it promoted the title across @SimonTeen social media channels as well as on RivetedLit.com, where it appears on a list of “Books to Read If You Absolutely Love Taylor Swift’s folklore.” BuzzFeed, the Elite Daily, Goodreads, and Book Riot all tapped A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow for their roundups of highly anticipated fall YA reads, and PW was one of several outlets flagging the book as a noteworthy new release for November.
“I also have a series of book trailers on my social media with quotes, music, and tea and Cuban food,” Namey said. “Reese’s Book Club has a wonderful campaign running that pairs my story elements with family photos and recipes,” she added. Reese’s Book Club additionally created a series of four bookmarks to download and print. “They’ve showcased my story and the cultural elements behind it with such care and sensitivity,” she said.
The book, Namey said, “hails straight out of my family album,” noting that she is the daughter and granddaughter of Cuban immigrants and is grateful that she could pay tribute to them in this way. “Many places, traditions, foods, and life lessons from my childhood are woven into the story,” she added. “I tried to take the spirit of people I love, and the truths I learned about identity and legacy and reimagine them into a coming-of-age novel that teens could relate to.”
It appears she’s hit her mark. “Readers have been absolutely wonderful,” Namey said of the reaction to the book so far. “As I can’t travel to do live events and signings, readers have been sending the loveliest messages of thanks and encouragement and creating beautiful Instagram photos.” She has been especially touched by the book’s reception among fellow Cubans. “So many Cubans have been grateful to see the word Cuban on a YA cover, to see a Cuban girl and a pastelito de guayaba [a guava pastry]—one of our treasured treats. This representation is important to them, and to me. Many have said the story gives them hope—and makes them hungry!”
Speaking of hungry, Namey lists “my mom’s arroz con pollo” as one of her favorite dishes, sharing that “it is the perfect comfort food. I ate it so often growing up. With one bite, memories flood of my childhood, and cooking with my mami and beloved tías. This was the first dish I knew I had to include in my book.”
She would like to think that incorporating such personal and flavorful details in her book will prove a recipe for an emotional salve for readers. “We are living in harsh, uncertain times,” Namey said. “I hope A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow brings readers a few moments of escape, joy, comfort, and hope.” Namey’s readers will be able to keep a hopeful vibe going with something else to look forward to: a new novel scheduled for fall 2021, also from Atheneum. “I’ve just finished edits,” Namey said. And though she hesitates to dish up too many details, she offered, “I can reveal it’s a dual timeline coming-of-age story centering on the longtime friendship of three teens, and a single moment of betrayal.”