Food can be a really powerful motif in books. It can be a sign of trust or distrust, a tool for worldbuilding, a way to show the preferences and background of characters. But sometimes it becomes really central to the story, even beyond that. Here are a couple of books where the main characters have a really important relationship with food in some way.
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen: I loved the way the magic of the garden and plants intertwine with the magic of food in this book. The gentle, textured way Allen talks about Claire’s gift and her relationship to cooking make this probably my favorite book by Sarah Addison Allen.
all the Amor et Chocolat books by Laura Florand: No, I mean, I really tried to pick one here. I love The Chocolate Kiss deeply and truly, and I especially love Magalie’s gift, and Aunt Aja’s tea. But then there’s Gabriel’s rose from The Chocolate Rose, and and–basically, if you like food, this is the romance series for you!
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han: One of the (many) things I loved about this book was the way Lara Jean used baking to express herself, and also as an expression of how much she cares about the important people in her life.
Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban: This is a bit of an outlier in the rest of this list given that it’s a picture book. But the memory of Albert’s lunch and the very particular way he eats it has remained with me so vividly for so long that I just had to include it anyway.
Relish by Lucy Knisley: I have a few reservations about the kind of–cultural tourism, is maybe the term I’m looking for?–in this book, but I also genuinely enjoy Knisley’s grapic novel memoir. The art is lovely, and each chapter has a hand-illustrated recipe to accompany it!
The Book of Atrix Wolfe by Patricia McKillip: I re-read this book last year for my McKillip reading notes series, and I was hungry the entire time. The descriptions of the feasts are mouthwatering, but they’re also sometimes surprising. I loved the sense that McKillip gives of the economy of the kitchens, and the way they are their own world.
Sunshine by Robin McKinley: Rae is, of course, a baker and Sunshine is FULL of things like cinnamon rolls as big as your head and the intriguingly titled Death of Marat (I hear someone has made a recipe for this and I want to try it! baked good and jokes about the French Revolution). Making food is an important part of Rae’s life and McKinley definitely shows that.
The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier: I’m maybe stretching just a tad here, because this is less focused on food and more on taste–Araenè, one of the main characters, experiences magic as a taste. I loved the way Neumeier used this description to create a sense of magic that’s really vivid and different.
Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon: I really enjoyed Silver Phoenix and its sequel when they came out a few years ago. One of the things I liked is the fact that Ai Ling unabashedly enjoys food. She thinks about it, she looks forward to eating it. It seems like often characters, especially female characters, aren’t allowed to do that.