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Publisher's Summary

You will develop a palate. A palate is a spot on your tongue where you remember. Where you assign words to the textures of taste. Eating becomes a discipline, language-obsessed. You will never simply eat food again.

These are the words that introduce us to Tess, the 22-year-old narrator of Sweetbitter - and you will never again listen to a debut coming-of-age novel as stunning as this one.

Shot from a mundane, provincial past, Tess comes to New York in the stifling summer of 2006. Alone, knowing no one, living in a rented room in Williamsburg, she manages to land a job as a backwaiter at a celebrated downtown Manhattan restaurant. This begins the year we spend with Tess as she starts to navigate the chaotic, enchanting, punishing, and privileged life she has chosen as well as the remorseless and luminous city around her. What follows is her education: in oysters, champagne, the appellations of Burgundy, friendship, cocaine, lust, love, and dive bars.

As her appetites awaken - for food and wine but also for knowledge, experience, and belonging - we see her helplessly drawn into a darkly alluring love triangle. With an orphan's ardor, she latches on to Simone, a senior server at the restaurant who has lived in ways Tess only dreams of, and against the warnings of coworkers she falls under the spell of Jake, the elusive, tatted up, achingly beautiful bartender. These two and their enigmatic connection to each other will prove to be Tess' most exhilarating and painful lesson of all.

Stephanie Danler intimately defines the crucial transition from girl to woman, from living in a place that feels like nowhere to living in a place that feels like the center of the universe. She deftly conjures the nonstop and purely adrenalized world of the restaurant - conversations interrupted, phrases overheard, relationships only partially revealed. And she evokes the infinite possibilities, the unbearable beauty, the fragility and brutality of being young in New York with heart-stopping accuracy.

A lush novel of the senses - of taste and hunger, seeing and understanding, love and desire - Sweetbitter is ultimately about the power of what remains after disillusionment and the transformation and wisdom that come from our experiences, sweet and bitter.

©2016 Stephanie Danler (P)2016 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Stephanie Danler arrives on the literary scene with a fully-fledged, original voice that's wry, watchful and wise beyond its years - acutely attuned to the pleasures of the senses and to the desperate stratagems of self-invention among young urban seekers. Sweetbitter is a stunning debut novel, one that seems destined to help define a generation." (Jay McInerney)
"I loved this novel so, so much. It's rare that a book conveys with such unerring precision what it's like to be newly arrived in New York - the story itself, but also tiny throwaway details like the sudden authority of the blue sky at dawn after staying up all night, or your bones bracing themselves for what comes next, or the exact mood of a Manhattan bar at three in the morning. I've never seen these things described so brilliantly before. Tess is a remarkable narrator: vulnerable and tough and smart, but more than that, she's inspiring and riveting. This book belongs with all the great essential young-female-in-New York classics." (Kate Christensen, author of In the Drink and The Great Man)
"Gorgeous, sensual prose and a page-turning plot line that casts a spell down to the very last sentence of the final page...tantalizing in all the right ways." ( Refinery29)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Set Your Expectations Accordingly

This book is touted as one of the stellar releases of 2016, so myriad sources state. Several call it a "coming of age" story, conjuring up images of a sweet YA novel. This is not the case.

Tess, or Fluffer as she's called, is an English grad looking for a job in Manhattan because "it was the only option." She doesn't want to be an actress, Broadway star, writer, publisher, etc. A low level job at a top rated restaurant is her first experience. This is a story of a 23 year old navigating the world of excess drinking, drug use, backstabbing, and sexual awakening. Know that before you listen.

The number of negative reviews surprised me. Maybe they were disappointed the book wasn't what they were expecting? Perhaps I have bad taste? I'll tell you why I like it.

What seems like a silly surface story of a naive girl in NYC is just window dressing for the selective, succulent language. I'm a pushover for any writer who can throw in the 500 SAT/GRE word list and have it come out in a non-pretentious, effortless flow, enhancing the story. This is the sumptuous story of Tess coming alive through her sense of knowledge and taste. The condescending, arrogant, yet seductive Simone opens up a world of fine wine and introduces Tess to the subtle differences between figs, oysters, duck, etc. we never notice or take for granted. You're immersed in the life that is the restaurant world and if you've worked in this field, some of it will feel familiar. They sit down for family meal and learn about the specials for the day. The cook is an aloof dictator; the manager likes the girls; fingers are pointed when things go wrong; some will do anything to get promoted. Everyone stays up late after, go out for drinks, take drugs, and sleeps together. The customers can be arrogant, funny, or treat you like a commoner. This may not be the book for you. It wasn't what I was expecting, but the turn of phrase, analogies, and unbridled confidence with which Tess exits this story made it a great listen for me.

As for the narrator, I found her voice raspy, unsure, pouty, sensuous, and at times confident, just bringing Tess into perfect focus. Since there are several negative slams of her, listen to the entire sample before you decide. She also narrates the YA novel, "Every Day" and I enjoyed her voice there, too.




28 of 29 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

I felt the narrator MADE the book!

What did you love best about Sweetbitter?

I didn't love the plot as much as I loved hearing about a different lifestyle and what goes on in top tier restaurants. I like food but certainly am not someone with a "palate" it was fun to learn about all of those things along with Tess. The central relationship wasn't super exciting for me but everything else was great. The characters were fun and

I LOVED LOVED LOVED LOVED the narrator! Alex McKenna was perfect for Tess, the sultry and sweet and somewhat young/naive sounding voice was perfect. Not to mention she did perfect impressions for each of the other characters. I especially enjoyed Simone and Ariel's voices. They just really helped enliven the characters for me.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars

Lacking Agency

I really enjoyed the narration, and the vulnerability in the narrator's voice. I think that the narrator is the reason that I did not stop halfway through the novel. The main problem for me with the novel is that the main character lack any agency, the character seems to just allow things to happen to her and absorbs these experiences(in all different forms) and does not seem to have any real control or awareness of herself in the world. This may be appealing to some, and may be relatable to some, but I find this really problematic especially as a novel about young women, by a young woman. That being said, there were parts of the novel that were enjoyable, particularly, Danler's description of food and the sensations involved with imbibing in food, drink, and even drugs. These parts of the novel were the best parts for me, but overall not a particularly pleasant reading experience in terms of the story.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

More bitter than sweet

I really did NOT enjoy this book at all. I had read several "rave" reviews and thought it must be great. As a foodie and lover of fine wines, I thought this would be an ideal combination of those elements as well as an interesting personal story. It was a personal story, but not one that was interesting.I found in it nothing more than a young woman's search for meaning in her new life in the Big Apple working at a gourmet restaurant. About a fourth of the way through, I wished it would just end as I thought the experiences she was detailing were very repetitive and boring. The one thing I appreciated about the book was the author's appropriate use of her excellent vocabulary. This indeed was far above the average read, yet not compelling enough for me to recommend the book.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Narrator ruined this book

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

I had heard about this book on the radio and was intrigued by the story. However, the narrator's read was grating to my ears. I couldn't finish the audio book because I found it so annoying.

How could the performance have been better?

Less vocal fry.

17 of 22 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

reliable model, brilliant execution

Narrator was better than average, story was superb. Excelent execution on a romance novel's structure.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Gritty and beautiful

A wonderfully written (and performed) story of a young woman in New York. Vivid, gritty, honest, and beautiful.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

A romantic view of food service

If you could sum up Sweetbitter in three words, what would they be?

Romanized food service

Who was your favorite character and why?

The sassy Russian waiter, he had the best realist lines

What about Alex McKenna’s performance did you like?

I loved the narrators reading of the different characters

Any additional comments?

I'm someone who worked and lived in NYC in food service for over 10 years, so I enjoyed the pretty decently real description of the drama & comradery of working for a restaurant. It did feel like a book written for people who have never been in service though, it was less real than say sassy gay waiter or kitchen confidential. This was more lovesick and romantic youthful drama. But I did enjoy it.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

story is meh, reader was great

The story was pretty predictable but fun. I loved the reader and the way she changed her voice to match the character was great.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
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Total letdown

The character development was slow. There was no real middle, ending, or climax for that matter :(

1 of 1 people found this review helpful