Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Book Review: The Kitchen Daughter

The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry

Bottom Line: 4 out of 5 stars; recommended. Probably best suited for adult readers, but also appropriate for mature high schoolers. Sort of PG-13ish with some profanity and mature themes about love, loss and interpersonal relationships.
I picked up this book after hearing about it from Kate, the writer of this very cool blog. Here's the book's official summary from its Amazon page:

"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."

The cooking theme and overall tone of this book reminded me of the movie Julia & Julia (yes, I watch and read things other than boy-centric science fiction and fantasy action adventures). The first third of the novel was on the slow side, and my eyes glazed over a bit during the passages where Ginny goes over recipes in great detail in her head (although I understand and appreciate the Aspie angle there).

Once I got past the 33% mark on my Kindle, however, I really started to get engrossed in the story. There were even several occasions where I audibly said to myself, "wow, this is amazing." Granted, some of those occasions occurred because I was impressed with McHenry's accurate portrayal of certain Aspie traits and tendencies, but others were simply due to powerful moments of drama and emotion.

It's definitely nice to see another book with a strong, empowering character on the spectrum that couches its portrait of Asperger's within the boundaries of a good, moving story that anyone can appreciate.

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