Book Review: Sweetbitter

Author: Stephanie Danler

Genre: Fiction – contemporary

Pages: 352 (paperback)

Rating: 5.8/10

Synopsis (no spoilers here!):

Tess, a twenty-two year old from Ohio, packs a few belongings into her car and takes off to New York City to become someone. She leaves a note for her dad and just drives off. She doesn’t have a job lined up or place to live but she’s immensely drawn to the hustle and bustle, glitz and glam, and the notoriety of The Big Apple. She’s not a writer or an artist or actor/singer/songwriter; all she has is a bit of experience working as a barista in small-town Ohio.

She is walking down the street and instinct makes her walk into a certain high-end restaurant and apply for a job. The manager, Howard, interviews her with a series of non-restaurant questions; she wonders, how do these particular questions relate to working in a restaurant? She realizes quickly that Howard was determining if she was part of the 51%, the portion of the population with work-ethic and a intriguing personality.

Tess works herself to tears, she pushes herself to understand the demanding tasks of working in a restaurant. She makes cappuccinos, runs food, busses tables, fills waters, and exhausts herself. She realizes that a restaurant job comes with a ‘shift drink’, which the staff turn into several drinks every night. They all head to Park Bar afterwards for more drinks, cocaine, and sleepless nights. She becomes immersed in the lifestyle and it takes a toll on her, but she thrives. The bartender, Jake, is a sexy enigma. The veteran waitress, Simone, is an intellectual wine-connoisseur that Tess becomes attached to.

Tess adores the New York City lifestyle and will do anything, including work long hours surrounded by asshole chefs and cockroach infested walls, to survive.


What I Liked:img_1827

I loved the characters: Tess, Simone, Howard, Jake, Nicky, Sasha, the entire restaurant staff were vibrant characters with distinct qualities. Also, having experience in the service industry as well, I could relate to a lot of the hardships of working in a restaurant. It was interesting to watch Tess crumble yet thrive at the same time. Tess, as well as everyone else, lived by the motto “work hard, play hard”. Danler’s writing style was great, as well.

What I Didn’t Like:

The story was a snapshot in the year of Tess’ life. There was no story line, plot or real climax to the story. As a reader, you certainly want to find out what happens with Jake and Simone. You want to find out if Tess gets the promotion to the desired server position. You want to find out if she is able to obtain the lifestyle. However, it’s a bit predictable and hard to stay attached to. If you don’t work in the service industry or live in New York City, this book is hard to relate to or enjoy.


My Next Read:

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

Happy Reading,



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