The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry

Thursday, April 28, 2011


The Kitchen Daughter
Knowing she's dead isn't what makes me miss her. It's the little things. They take me by surprise. Then I get stomachaches and I have to distract myself and disappear inside a dark small space or a process so deep it swallows me. I miss her because she's not here. If I invoke her ghost, she'll be here, and I won't have to miss her then.

After the sudden death of her parents, Ginny is left feeling isolated and unsure of what to do. Her sister, Amanda, is trying to cope with the tragedy in her own way, but she doesn't really know how to look after Ginny, who has Asperger's syndrome. Ginny throws herself into cooking, because nothing else seems to be able to address her intense sadness the way cooking and food does. The first time, she makes a bread soup from a recipe written by her grandmother. Even before she could relish the awesome dish, her kitchen is visited by an unexpected visitor - the ghost of her grandmother herself, who warns her "Do no let her..." before disappearing.

The Kitchen Daughter is the story of autistic Ginny, who finds that thinking of food helps her cope with her sadness, anger and anxieties. She imagines the smell, feel and taste of food when she's feeling upset. She thinks of each person in terms of the food that comes to her mind when she hears their voice. For instance, her father has a tomato juice voice, her sister an orange juice voice, her friend David has a muddy/espresso voice.

I am usually skeptic of books featuring characters who have autism. Recently, there's been an explosion of literature in that category, and while some have been exceptional, quite a few have been just "following the trend". That said, I do like it when a book shows the disorder authentically. And in that respect, I thought The Kitchen Daughter did a great job in portraying Ginny's illness - her fears, her behavioral tics, her determination to do things her way. I was worried about the mystical element in the book - that of Ginny seeing ghosts when she cooks from their hand-written recipes. While I didn't exactly get comfortable with the ghosts, I thought it was a nice touch.

The Kitchen Daughter is the first foodie fiction that I've read. It was a change reading books with characters interacting first-hand with recipes (which have been shared) and even discussing methods of cooking them. I can see how this would appeal to someone who loves cooking. And since, I'm just beginning to get intimate with cooking (I've been lucky to have been with people who loved to cook for me), some of all that food references just went over my head. That's not to say I didn't enjoy the book or get hungry, but it was not as much as I hoped to.

One thing that disappointed me about this book is that one mystery which was portrayed as very important early on in the book isn't solved by the end of the book. It didn't turn out to be too relevant later, because I understood Ginny to receive closure even without it being revealed, but there was still that little something nagging me at the back of my head. Barring that, I thought this was a different read of a usual storyline told in a refreshing novel way.

I received this book for free for review from Goldberg McDuffie CommunicationsThe Kitchen Daughter was released on April 12th. Check it out on the publisher's pageGoodreadsAmazon and Barnes and Noble. To visit the author's website, click here.


28 comments:

Misha said...

I agree that all of a sudden there have been too many books with characters suffering from some illness or the other. I am glad to hear that the author does a great job in depicting autism, especially since I've interest in such issues. I have not read foodie fiction yet, but I really want to (even though I am completely useless when it comes to cooking).

Athira / Aths said...

Haha.. You sound just like me on the cooking aspect! I don't think foodie fiction is exactly for me but I do want to read more such books. I know I enjoy foodie movies!

bermudaonion (Kathy) said...

I adored this book and would love it if the author would write a follow up and let us know how Ginny's doing.

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I absolutely loved this story. I cannot, cannot wait to read whatever Jael McHenry writes next!

hcmurdoch said...

Glad you liked this one. Having recipes and food in it makes me think of Like Water for Chocolate. I am so not a foodie, but this one might be good; I'll put it on my maybe list

Nadia said...

Aths, this book sounds so interesting. Recipes in the book reminds me of Esquivel's book Like Water for Chocolate - which I loved! I'll definitely be adding this one to my TBR list. Thanks!

Vasilly said...

I love foodie fiction though I don't read enough of it. Even with the one setback you talked about, I think this might be a book for me. Great review.

Athira / Aths said...

I agree. That would be a great follow-up. I was so glad to see how things worked out for Ginny eventually.

Athira / Aths said...

I'm excited to see what she has up her sleeves!

Athira / Aths said...

I guess this is like that book. I've seen many other foodie books around lately, but it's just me not being too foodie that's keeping me from checking them out.

Athira / Aths said...

I have Like Water for Chocolate on my TBR, which I need to check out, but I think it's the same idea - recipes hidden within stories.

Athira / Aths said...

Thanks! The setback I mentioned is minor actually. Soon after I finished this book, I discussed that mystery with a couple of bloggers and we all agreed that Ginny's assumptions were enough.

Carrie Dunham-LaGree said...

This one really intrigues me with both the foodie element and the autistic element.

Darlene said...

Great reviewAths! I have this book on my shelf and I'm anxious to read it. I love foodie books so I think this may be a good read for me.

Athira / Aths said...

Both elements really delivered well, so you should check this out. It was an entertaining read.

Athira / Aths said...

Yay! Then I think you will enjoy it! I can't wait to hear what you think.

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

This was recommended quite a bit when I asked for foodie fiction recommendations last week -- I'm glad you liked it. That makes me more excited to give it a try.

Athira / Aths said...

Can't wait to hear what you think! It's an entertaining foodie fiction.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Sounds like something I might dig. Great honest review.

BibliophilebytheSea said...

I had this on my wish list (which I have no business adding to), but I may pass on this one, at least for now. I did enjoy your well-done review.

Athira / Aths said...

Thanks, Juju!

Athira / Aths said...

Thanks, Diane! I do understand removing this from your wishlist. I don't think I would have read this one after reading a review, it was mostly an out-of-comfort-zone read for me.

c b said...

I just finished this a couple of hours ago :) I enjoyed it, but didn't love it. I love food, though I am terrible cook and wanting to learn, so I do like that aspect of it. I also thought the mystery wasn't solved - I wonder if we're thinking of the same mystery? I wish it would have been clearer.

Roberta said...

Is this a first book? What an interesting juxtaposition: food and autism, I'm intrigued by your review.

(BTW, I was your BBAW interview partner. How are things going?)

Athira / Aths said...

The mystery - is it about the message itself? Do no let her...? I felt it was very crucial to the story line and I really wanted to know what it was about.

Athira / Aths said...

Hey Roberta!! It's been so long since we "talked"! Things are going good, a bit hectic but nice otherwise. How are you doing?

This is a first book, I believe, although the author does blog about food on her website. I did think that cooking and autism together in a book was kind of interesting.

christa @ mental foodie said...

yep it's the 'do not let her' bit... i think i have an idea what it is about but wish it was clearer. it was almost as tho the author forgot all about it.

Athira / Aths said...

Exactly! That's what I felt. I began to panic that it may not be answered, then I assumed that the author must have forgotten it or let it be figured by the reader. So I just thought that maybe Ginny was meant to guess and leave at it.