Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry

Jael McHenry's debut novel, The Kitchen Daughter, features a main character with Asperger's Syndrome. Before reviewing it, I have to clarify that I don't know anyone with that syndrome, so I can't speak for her accuracy in describing it. I can say that Ginny Selvaggio offers a unique voice in a story filled with recipes and food.

And, it is Ginny's voice we hear as she tells the story, so we see life through her eyes, beginning with her parents' funeral and the difficulties in hosting so many people at the house afterward. It's bad enough to unexpectedly lose her parents when they died of carbon monoxide poisoning, but Ginny can't cope with so many people talking to her, closing in around her, and touching her. She ends up hiding in a closet, trying to escape. That solution only convinces Ginny's younger sister, Amanda, that Ginny can't live alone. The two sisters will have to clean out the house, and sell it, allowing Ginny to move in with Amanda's family.

When everything feels wrong, Ginny turns to cooking. She can calm herself emotionally by talking her way through a recipe. She's an outstanding cook, taught by her mother to follow the rules. But, when she follows her grandmother's handwritten recipe, she calls up Nonna's ghost. It doesn't take long for her to realize she can call up ghosts when she uses handwritten recipes. But, the ghosts have messages that Ginny struggles to understand. They seem to go with a letter and pictures she uncovers, secrets she keeps from her sister. Ginny is wise enough to know she shouldn't tell Amanda any of this until she learns the truth.

McHenry's debut is all the more powerful for being told through Ginny's voice. Readers are caught up in her fear and anger. And, it's easy to understand the power that cooking has in her life, power to sooth her, but also the power to change her life. And, Ginny is very wise, although she doesn't know that. She's not stupid, and, she understands more than many people do that there are many types of normal.

The Kitchen Daughter offers lessons in life to readers as well as to Ginny. It's a story of loss and grief, and learning to handle what life has given. It's a wise person who knows that there are many types of normal.

Jael McHenry's website is www.jaelmchenry.com

The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry. Simon & Schuster. ©2011. ISBN 9781439191699 (hardcover), 288p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, in hopes I would review it.

6 comments:

Kay said...

I've read several very positive reviews of this book in the last little while. One of them was by a blogger who has Asperger's and she was very impressed with it. That sold me more than anything else. I've got this on my Kindle and am looking forward to it.

Lesa said...

Thank you, Kay. That's why I made it clear up front that I don't know enough about Asperger's to know if this book was accurate. I'm glad you heard from that blogger.

bermudaonion said...

I loved this book! Ginny was such a fabulous character.

Lesa said...

Wasn't Ginny great? I'm looking forward to talking about this book tomorrow at a brown bag luncheon for librarians.

Beth Hoffman said...

I'm so eager to read this one! Terrific review, Lesa.

Lesa said...

Thanks, Beth. I'm pushing it today at my brown bag luncheon for the staff. Ginny (the main character) has a unique voice.