My Fine Fellow

By Jennieke Cohen

Harper Teen

What do you get when you mix an alternate historical timeline into a YA romance with the scenario of My Fair Lady then add in elements of the Food Network? Why, you create a lively concoction called My Fine Fellow.

In this retelling of Pygmalion, we still have the three main characters of the self-centered know-it-all, the sympathetic and helpful friend, and the poor laborer trying to get ahead in a class conscious society. However, this time the genders of these roles have been switched. We have Helena Higgins, Penelope Pickering, and Elijah Little, and they’re all seventeen years old. Helena and Penelope are culinarians–students of a prestigious culinary arts school–and they’re working on their final projects. The girls run into Elijah, a poor orphan immigrant, hawking delicious empanadas in the streets of London.  Helena decides that teaching Elijah to become a proper “Gentleman Chef” will be her final project. By sharing her culinary expertise, Helena believes she will make something out of the struggling street vendor. Penelope is afraid her brusque friend will trample on Elijah’s feelings and treat him like an object. (And she’s not wrong.)

… the tension builds to the story’s exciting and satisfactory conclusion … all in all, it’s a fun read.

Helena is determined to prove that she is the world’s best culinarian, and Elijah is willing to accept her abuse to become his own shop owner, free from the prejudice he suffers on a daily basis. Only Penelope’s calming influence keeps the trio together. They all work hard to help Elijah enter the Royal Culinary Exhibition, where the winner will have the opportunity to accept Princess Adelaide’s hand in marriage. But can Penelope stand to see Elijah married to another woman even if it is the princess? Can Elijah keep his heritage a secret, even though revealing it could ruin his career? Will Helena admit that her highhandedness destroys her friendships, which are worth more than all the culinary prizes in the world?

The stakes are high and the tension builds to the story’s exciting and satisfactory conclusion. The only real distraction in My Fine Fellow is the odd choice to place the action in the 1830s and not the Edwardian period of My Fair Lady when modern transportation and refrigeration technology would have made the movement of exotic produce more feasible. Throughout the story there is no mention of proper chaperones for Helena and Penelope either, which for upper class young women would have been unheard of even well into the twentieth century. There is no explanation given as to how a poor boy like Elijah would have learned to read and write since public education in Great Britain didn’t come about until the 1870s. These unexplained tweaks of British history may cause readers to stumble, but all in all, it’s a fun read.

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