Title: The Kitchen Daughter
Author: Jael McHenry
Synopsis (Courtesy of IndieBound): “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.”
Thoughts: Upon finishing The Kitchen Daughter, I immediately wanted to grab one of my favorite recipes and set up shop in my kitchen, to play with the texture and aromas of food, and enjoy my family’s reaction to it. Ginny’s relationship with food, how it makes her strong and gives her purpose, is inspiring. Frankly, Ginny herself is inspiring. As she struggles to prevent her illness from defining who she is, the reader becomes more than a sideline cheerleader and becomes emotionally involved in her battles. Every step is emotional and powerful, and the reader is left with a profound sense of determination to overcome his or her own struggles.
Ginny is simply a great heroine. Rather than build a barrier between the reader and the heroine, Ginny’s Asperger’s syndrome makes her more sympathetic. Everyone has all had moments when s/he has acted irrationally in public, when s/he wants to hide away from the world, when s/he does not want to be social or is at a point in the day where s/he cannot be social any longer. Because each reader has experienced these things at some point in time, Ginny’s own struggles become more personable, and Ginny herself becomes more empathetic. Her perspective on life is unique; no matter that it may or may not be the result of a disorder, she refuses to let grief or difficulties overcome her. More importantly, she never gives up when it would be so easy to do so. She remains true to herself and is worthy of the reader’s admiration.
The true star of the novel is the food. Ms. McHenry’s descriptions of food and the process of cooking are simply luscious. Those not comfortable in a kitchen will be inspired to start trying, while those who enjoy cooking will find validation in The Kitchen Daughter. The reader walks away from the novel with a greater appreciation of the art behind cooking.
Cooking is intimate and can be emotional. Through cooking, Ginny is able to overcome her fears of intimacy and overwhelming grief to be able to unravel a fascinating mystery that is definitely not what it appears to be initially. The additional element of the supernatural seems natural and is done respectfully. The result is a novel that is simply beautiful.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster for my galley copy!