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 Kitchen Daughter by Jeal McHenry is a beautiful, lyrical and extremely creative debut book about how unexpected change affects the life of 26-year-old Ginny Selvaggio who has Asperger’s syndrome. The book opens with Ginny describing the funeral of her parents, who died unexpectedly on a vacation. Ginny, who has lived a very sheltered life finds a balance in the kitchen, perfecting family recipes. As Ginny is processing her grief, her sister Amanda wants to sell the house and have Ginny move in with her, something Ginny is dead set against. As Ginny continues to work on recreating recipes she discovers many things about herself and her family that she never would have imagined. The Kitchen Daughter is a beautiful story of family, Asperger’s Syndrome, and how it affects those who have personal connections to one with the syndrome. I found the book to be creative, informative, and one I did not want to put down. The reader gets to really know and care for the characters, cheer Ginny on and in the process gain some rather delicious sounding recipes. McHenry’s writing is masterful, commanding, and quite vivid and I eagerly await her next book. I highly recommend The Kitchen Daughter to all readers and to book discussion groups.
Jael McHenry is a talented and enthusiastic amateur cook who blogs about food and cooking at the SIMMER blog. She is a monthly pop culture columnist and Editor-in-Chief of Intrepid Media, online at intrepidmedia.com. Her work has appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Indiana Review, and the Graduate Review at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. She lives in New York City.
I received a complimentary copy of The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry from Gallery Books. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of aforementioned novel.