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Jael McHenry – The Kitchen Daughter

September 12, 2011

110. The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry (2011)

Length: 272 pages
Genre: Tecccccchnically it’s fantasy, since there are ghosts popping up here and there, but no one would ever shelve it or look for it there. Contemporary Fiction.

Started: 25 August 2011
Finished: 27 August 2011

Where did it come from? From the publishers for review.
Why do I have it? It turned up unsolicited; at least, I reeeally don’t remember requesting it. Thankfully the lovely folks at Gallery Books knew more about my reading tastes than I did and sent it anyways.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 15 May 2011.

Summoning ghosts by
the power of your cooking:

Summary: The death of Ginny Selvaggio’s parents has left Ginny’s world turned upside-down. Overwhelmed by the crush of people at the funeral, and suddenly left alone for the first time in her life, Ginny turns to the familiar rituals of cooking to comfort herself. However, as she makes her grandmother’s recipe for ribollita off a time-worn, hand-written recipe card, her grandmother herself appears on a stool in the corner of the kitchen. Ginny’s obviously startled – she’s never seen a ghost before – but her grandmother only has time for a single cryptic warning before she fades away again: “Do no let her.” Ginny’s not sure who she’s supposed to stop from doing what; maybe she’s supposed not supposed to let her brusquely practical sister Amanda sell the only house Ginny’s even known? Or is it connected to some secret her parents were keeping, a secret that Ginny is only beginning to uncover now that they’re gone?

Review: This book was sneakily, surprisingly wonderful. I love food-centered books, and books with recipes, so I was expecting to love those parts, and the book didn’t let me down: the food writing is very evocative, and absolutely brings the smells and the textures and the tastes of Ginny’s kitchen to life. (I’ve only tried one of the recipes so far – the Georgia Peach cocktail – but it is dangerously delicious.) But the whole food-summoning-ghosts thing is only a part of this novel, and maybe not even the biggest part, and the wonderfulness of all the rest was what really surprised me.

Ginny is a wonderful narrator, immediately recognizable (at least to me) and intensely sympathetic. I loved the view into the ways her mind worked, her ways of coping with a suddenly unfamiliar and hostile world, the contrast between the forms taken by her grief vs. that of her sister. The strong connection I felt with Ginny made this book incredibly touching; I cried more than a little when she finally got her last reunion with – and chance to say goodbye to – her parents.

But most of all, I really appreciated the fact that despite the pressure from her sister, and from the world at large, Ginny refused to give in and see herself as broken or strange. The message that there’s no such thing as normal struck a strong chord with me, and I think it’s one that’s applicable not just to people with (or people who know people with) Asperger’s, but to anyone who’s ever felt isolated or misunderstood. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Definitely worth a read for anyone who likes food-based fiction – there’s more than a touch of Like Water For Chocolate about it – but it also should appeal to folks who liked The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, or anyone who likes compelling contemporary fiction told from a unique point of view.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

The Georgia Peach (according to The Kitchen Daughter; there are other cocktails with this same name but different recipes)
2 parts ginger ale (or tonic water, but I like it better with ginger ale)
2 parts peach schnapps
1 part Amaretto
1 part orange juice

Combine ingredients; pour over a single ice cube in a martini glass. Drink; enjoy; promptly make another one.

Other Reviews: Book Addiction, Devourer of Books, Fizzy Thoughts, The Literate Housewife Review, She Is Too Fond of Books, Sophisticated Dorkiness, and many more over at the book blog search engine.
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Bad things come in threes.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. September 12, 2011 10:45 am

    I love your haiku for this one! I’m glad you enjoyed the book.

    • September 19, 2011 8:46 am

      Kim – Thanks! I was originally trying to work something with “Chefomancy” but it didn’t have the right number of syllables, and didn’t fit quite right anyways. :)

  2. September 12, 2011 12:11 pm

    This book will probably be one of my favorites of the year. I wanted things to turn out differently for Ginny, but was still satisfied with the ending.

    • September 19, 2011 8:47 am

      Kathy – I was hoping for something different too, but I wound up really appreciating that the book didn’t give any of the characters easy outs/quick fixes.

  3. September 12, 2011 5:36 pm

    This sounds awesome and that recipe sounds amazing.

    • September 19, 2011 8:48 am

      Juju – Oh, it is. It’s dangerously tasty. I’ve killed most of a bottle of Amaretto making them for myself and friends…

  4. September 12, 2011 6:12 pm

    I’ve seen this one about and, based on the reviews I’ve been reading, I definitely think it’d be one I’d enjoy. I like all of the things you list under “recommendation,” except for Like Water for Chocolate, which I disliked for reasons that don’t sound like they’re so relevant in this book.

    • September 19, 2011 8:48 am

      Erin – What were your reasons for not liking Like Water For Chocolate?

  5. September 12, 2011 6:41 pm

    I really enjoyed this one: Book Review: The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry

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