Lorca, the excruciatingly vulnerable protagonist of Jessica Soffer’s first novel, Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots, is, like so many teenage protagonists, burdened with a couple of seriously bad parents. Her mother Nancy, a chef, notices her when she feels like it. When the novel opens, she’s beginning to feel like it less and less. Lorca has been caught cutting herself and is to be packed off to boarding school. Nancy can’t wait, but the thought of being so discarded terrifies Lorca. As for Lorca’s absent father, he obeys and is cowed by his ex-wife.

On the other side of New York City is another lousy mother, Victoria, a woman with a self-obsession that sucks the air out of any room she’s in. (One mark of Soffer’s talent is that she makes the reader stick with Victoria even at her worst.) Victoria wants to believe that her love for her late husband, Joseph, with whom she used to run a restaurant, was so overpowering that there was no room in their marriage for anyone else. This was why she gave up their child at birth. But now Joseph, as subservient to his wife as Lorca’s dad is to his, is dead, and she has no one but her somewhat scattered upstairs neighbor Dottie. To get over her grief, Victoria starts a cooking class in her own kitchen. To finally win her mother’s affections, Lorca decides to learn how to cook a meal Nancy once rhapsodized over. When she sees a flyer announcing Victoria’s cooking school, she thinks it’s a reprieve.

Well, yes and no. Victoria and Lorca take to each other right away, gently circling each other physically and emotionally as they put together meals from Victoria’s native Iraq. The reader roots for Lorca as she begins to emerge from her isolation. She befriends not only Victoria, but also an equally lonely boy named Blot and maybe even Dottie.

Indeed, we root for all of Soffer’s rich and complex characters, with the exception of Nancy, perhaps—Soffer dislikes her too much. Sometimes families just don’t work, the author seems to say. The good news is you can always find another.

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