Book Review

The Thick And The Lean

The Thick and the Lean

  • Author: Chana Porter
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Publication Date: April 18, 2023 
  • Publisher: Gallery/Saga Press

Thank you to NetGalley and Gallery/Saga Press for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

CONTENT WARNING: emesis, bulimia, racism, mention of colonialism, fat-shaming, eating disordered thoughts, suicide, self-harm, blood, violence, murder, ableism and erasure of disabled people

In Lambda Award finalist Chana Porter’s highly anticipated new novel, an aspiring chef, a cyberthief, and a kitchen maid each break free of a society that wants to constrain them.

In the quaint religious town of Seagate, abstaining from food brings one closer to God.

But Beatrice Bolano is hungry. She craves the forbidden: butter, flambé, marzipan. As Seagate takes increasingly extreme measures to regulate every calorie its citizens consume, Beatrice must make a choice: give up her secret passion for cooking or leave the only community she has known.

Elsewhere, Reiko Rimando has left her modest roots for a college tech scholarship in the big city. A flawless student, she is set up for success…until her school pulls her funding, leaving her to face either a mountain of debt or a humiliating return home. But Reiko is done being at the mercy of the system. She forges a third path—outside of the law.

With the guidance of a mysterious cookbook written by a kitchen maid centuries ago, Beatrice and Reiko each grasp for a life of freedom—something more easily imagined than achieved in a world dominated by catastrophic corporate greed.

A startling fable of the entwined perils of capitalism, body politics, and the stigmas women face for appetites of every kind, Chana Porter’s profound new novel explores the reclamation of pleasure as a revolutionary act.

I completely fell for the beautiful cover of this book, and seem to always be judging books by their cover. In this case, it worked out well for me, since this was a rather intriguing book that I couldn’t put down. While it isn’t quite a fantasy or sci-fi book, it’s definitely a dystopian society that incorporates elements of both, and kept me wanting to learn more about it.

Porter has created a society that operates on varying levels of complexity. There’s racist overtones, elements of colonialism, classism, and a religion-based society where food has become taboo, while sex is an acceptable pleasure to indulge in. There’s some degree of mobility between the classes, and society is stratified between the Bastian (the lowest level), the Middle, and Above, where the ultra wealthy live.

We’re initially introduced to Beatrice, who is a young woman living in Seagate, a community founded upon the religious principles. However, she’s struggling with inner desires that she’s always been told are wrong—she wants to eat food that has flavor, complexity, the kind of foods that stimulate her tastebuds. And so she starts on a journey that leads her away from everything she ever knew to indulge her passion for food.

The other main character is Reiko, who is from the Bastian, but earns an academic scholarship in the Middle. She succeeds beautifully at her studies, but when the school pulls her scholarship, she finds herself between a rock and a hard place—put herself into staggering amounts of debt to complete her education or return to the Bastian as a failure. Instead, she creates an alternate path in which she embarks on a life as a cyberthief. 

Along the way, both of these characters come across a copy of an illegal book, written centuries ago, and snippets of this book are inserted into the story. I really liked these excerpts, which came across much like a fairy tale combined with a history book. I was kind of expecting the paths of the two main characters to cross at some point in the story, and they don’t exactly intersect much, although they do come into contact at one point. However, their character arcs seem to cross over more than anything else, as these two women both decide to buck tradition and forge their own paths in a world that is focused on denial of specific desires while indulging others. 

While the last part of the book shows the most growth for one of the characters, it also felt like the weakest part of the story. It seemed like the author was trying to do a lot with the book, and it was almost as if it was maybe too ambitious, but it didn’t necessarily detract from what the story was. Overall, this was a fantastic and light read that was fast-paced and intriguing. And it got me curious about Porter’s previous book, so that should keep me busy for a while.

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 7

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