Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry

Summary (courtesy ofGoodReads):   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.

And here's what I thought:   I got swept up in this book right away, greedily sequestering myself (and abandoning the vacuuming) to curl up and read.   The book has a great pace, and I just got wrapped up in the story, and Ginny, and how when she would make a recipe, a ghost would show up.   Sometimes, it was so touching when one would show up, that I would get a bit choked up (although one of the ghosts was actually quite frightening).   Her conversations with these ghosts were revealing, not only about her relationship with that person, but about Ginny, herself. 

I thought the author did a great job with the characters. Ginny is sometimes a little frustrating, but she's intriguing.  Her sister, Amanda, was someone I really started to despise -- she seems intent on running Ginny's life and making decisions for her, just steamrolling over anything Ginny actually wants.  But the fact that I despised this character means she's well-written (that's my logic, at least.  If a character's not well-written, I just don't care about them).     The whole relationship between the two sisters is compelling --- they are both so different, and coping with the death of their parents in completely different ways.  I found myself imagining what it would have been like for them when they were kids.   The whole family relationship was something I kept coming back to, thinking about the dynamics, and how people relate to each other.   Ginny made a statement about her mother that I thought was interesting: "When she's gone I want her here.  When she's here I want her gone.  She's right, I'm difficult, and in many ways."  (p. 110).   I can see this being a familiar theme with mothers and daughters -- those relationships can be complex. 

It was fascinating to have the main character, through who we experience the entire story, to be someone with Asperger's  (This is not a spoiler -- it's on the inside flap of the book that she has this syndrome).  I'm familiar with what Asperger's is, and experiencing everything through Ginny, whose mind works a bit differently than some people's, was refreshing.  It made me think about some of the things she encounters in the story in a different way.  I appreciated, for example, how, when she needed to calm herself, she would imagine certain kinds of food.  I usually count to ten in my head, but maybe I'll start trying her technique.   I liked how sometimes Ginny had a different kind of view of things, and how she approached the challenges she came across.    One of the things she said in the book really stayed in my mind:  "Difficult, Ma called me,  It cuts both ways.  Difficult for her to deal with me, sure, but difficult for me too.  Difficult to feel like I'm always a little bit on the outside.  Difficult to launch myself into activities everyone else seems to take for granted like a school day, a lecture, a lunchroom, knowing that I might have a reaction I can't control.   Difficult, but not impossible.  I am not impossible."   (p. 168)   Yes.

First sentences:     "Bad things come in threes.  My father dies.  My mother dies.  Then there's the funeral.  Other people would say these are all the same bad news.  For me, they're different."

Thoughts on the cover: Love it, how the net shopping bag filled with peppers evokes a feminine shape.  Plus, I like the idea of the net, of how it could reflect Ginny's feelings of being caught in not knowing what to do.  

Note:  Thank you to the book publicist who contacted me about reviewing this book --- it was a great read!   And for all readers -- this book will be out on April 12th, so keep your eye out for it!!


Anonymous said...

I really love the sound of this one. Really! I'm heading over to goodreads to put it on my wishlist right now. Thanks for a great review Jo.

Booksnyc said...

I just won this in #fridayreads and I am excited to get it! Thanks for your review!

Anonymous said...

Great review! We felt the same way about it - its just a beautiful book!

Shelleyrae @ Book'd Out

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