Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Jenn's Review: The Kitchen Daughter

The Kitchen DaughterSummary:  After the unexpected death of her parents, painfully shy and sheltered 26-year-old Ginny Selvaggio seeks comfort in cooking from family recipes. But the rich, peppery scent of her Nonna’s soup draws an unexpected visitor into the kitchen: the ghost of Nonna herself, dead for twenty years, who appears with a cryptic warning (“do no let her…”) before vanishing like steam from a cooling dish.

A haunted kitchen isn’t Ginny’s only challenge. Her domineering sister, Amanda, (aka “Demanda”) insists on selling their parents’ house, the only home Ginny has ever known. As she packs up her parents’ belongings, Ginny finds evidence of family secrets she isn’t sure how to unravel. She knows how to turn milk into cheese and cream into butter, but she doesn’t know why her mother hid a letter in the bedroom chimney, or the identity of the woman in her father’s photographs. The more she learns, the more she realizes the keys to these riddles lie with the dead, and there’s only one way to get answers: cook from dead people’s recipes, raise their ghosts, and ask them.

Review:  This book was on my TBR wishlist so I was thrilled when the publicist offered it up for review.  This is not your typical food-lit.  It's not about romance, it about families and grieving.  I was a little concerned that this book would be too serious for me (There's a reason I don't read Jodi Picoult books) but I needn't have worried.  It's a wonderful story that incorporates magical realism, food, and contemporary issues.

I love that Jael McHenry gave her main character, Ginny, Asperger’s.   So often these are things we read about and not read of. The world is a difficult place for Ginny to be to begin with, and now, with the death of her parents, Ginny's world has shrunk.  It is interesting to me that Ginny has never been diagnosed. Yes, it never put a label on her or limitations, but it also means she never got ant extra help at school or learning how to cope.   Ginny's book of normal reminds her that there are all different kinds of 'normal', but perhaps with a name for her symptoms, instead of telling people she 'has a personality', she could have been more focused on defining what's normal for her. It could have helped her finish college...  It might even have taught Amanda some ways to deal with her sister.

I love that food and food preparation are Ginny's coping mechanism and that Gert uses Ginny's talent in the kitchen to draw Ginny out into the world.  Amanda really does want to help, but she goes about it all wrong. And watching it unfold through Ginny's eyes makes it seem even more difficult than it is. Ginny is willing to help others, if it's in her comfort zone, but she has to learn to help herself.

If that isn't enough to draw the reader in, Jael McHenry adds a layer of magical realism.  Raising ghosts is enough to unbalance anyone, but for Ginny it's something she can rationalize. However, her Asperger’s doesn't allow her to focus on the questions to which she wants answers.  Instead she follows old patterns and misses the big picture. In the end it is her grief, her concern for others and her realizations about her family are what finally force Ginny to accept help and to help herself.

I usually comment on a author's writing style, especially if it's my first time reading his/her work but I was so involved with the story that I can't really say much about it - so I'd say that in and of itself is impressive. I was absorbed into Ginny's world and her food. Oh, yes, there are recipes too!  Each one is in someone else's handwriting and each one holds special significance to Ginny.  There was only one thing that I wish Ms. McHenry would have resolved a little better, but I don't want to spoil anything, so I'll leave it at that.

This is a heartwarming tale of family, grieving, and food told through the eyes of someone who sees everything a little bit differently.  I will definitely be seeking out Jael McHenry's work again, even if her next book is not food related, because she has a talent for bringing a story to life.  As for The Kitchen Daughter, it is a must read.

Final Take:  4.75/5.0



Vanessa@Luxuria August 3, 2011 at 1:25 PM  

As a "foodie" this is certainly going on my reading list.

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