Saturday, July 9, 2011

Review: The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry

Description (from Simon & Schuster)

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.

My Thoughts

From the very first page, I fell in love with The Kitchen Daughter. It has the perfect ingredients and blended together it forms a feast for the reader and exemplifies what I love about women's fiction. The Kitchen Daughter is a debut novel by Jael McHenry layered with the strength of complex and strong characters, a dash of magic, a unique story and a genuine and honest heroine in Ginny. The writing is beautiful and the story is engaging and endearing, I devoured it. I actually didn't want it to end so I savored it chapter by chapter. Ginny is in her mid-twenties, lives at home with her parents and is shy and socially awkward. Her life is turned upside down after the unexpected death of her parents. Ginny's mother taught her to cook at a young age and it is more than a hobby. Ginny most likely has Asperger's Syndrome and cooking is a way for her to cope, escape from the stresses of life. She is skilled at it and has a sixth sense about spices and ingredients and cooking is a sensory experience for her. After her parents death, she seeks comfort by making a recipe of her grandmother's and finds that as the scent fills the kitchen, she can invoke the ghost of the dead person whose recipe she is making. 

Not only is Ginny learning to live alone but her sister Amanda wants to sell the house and have Ginny move in with her family. This is the only home Ginny has ever known and is not ready to make these changes in her life. As she starts packing her parent's things she uncovers evidence about her parents past and family secrets that she is not sure how to find the answers to. She finds that  the way to find the answers is through her cooking, cook from her parents recipes and try to bring their ghosts to answer her questions.

What I appreciated about The Kitchen Daughter is that the author takes us into the fascinating unique mind of Ginny and how she experiences life with Asperger's.  As a reader you experience her social challenges, emotional challenges and how sensory experiences are overwhelming and comforting. Ginny learns how to deal with loss, new relationships, family and secrets. The writing was just beautiful, lyrical and a feast to read. I thoroughly enjoyed this experience and loved the magical realism elements to the story that are woven into the novel so well. The cooking flows with the magical elements that are whipped in to strengthen and blend effortlessly into the story. 

I loved the food elements of the story and many of the chapters had recipes at the beginning of them. This would be a great book for a book club discussion. There are so many elements to discuss and the recipes could be made as part of the discussion to go along with the theme of the book. Midnight Cry brownies would make a great dessert and The Georgia Peach would make an excellent cocktail (See recipe below). There is a Reading Group Guide for The Kitchen Daughter, here.  Ms. McHenry website states that she is even working on book club menus to correlate with the book, that is a great idea! 

Here is a recipe from the book that sounds like a perfect summer drink:

The Georgia Peach

2 ounces peach schnapps
2 ounces orange juice
1 ounce amaretto
Grenadine (splash)

Combine schnapps, juice, and amaretto. Pour over a single ice cube in a martini glass. Splash in grenadine. Serves one as written. This is one that will need to be multiplied and would make a great drink to accompany a book club discussion of The Kitchen Daughter. 

Check out this wonderful video with the author Jael McHenry talking about The Kitchen Daughter and a recipe from the book called Hot Hot Chocolate

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, go to Beth Fish Reads.


  1. I loved this book too, even though I wanted things to turn out differently for Ginny. Great review.

  2. You've made me want to read this book, Bonnie. It's on my list.

  3. Great review and thanks soooooo much for the video (which I had somehow missed). I love a bit of chili powder in my chocolate. Yummm.

  4. This sounds like a great book - thanks for the review ;0)

  5. That does it -- your wonderful review has finally convinced me to sit down and read this book :)
    I have had it on my tBR pile for a while, and keep seeing such good things about it in the blogosphere. So it's going to be next up.
    I am particularly intrigued by your comment that the author voiced the character with Asperger's so realistically. I felt that way about Jodi Picoult in House Rules -- I thought her ability to capture the inner thoughts of an Asperger's sufferer was amazing.
    Thanks for the great review :)

  6. I've had The Kitchen Daughter on my list and really need to get to it. Sounds like my kind of book.
    Good review.

  7. I have been hearing a lot about this book lately. Can't wait to read it. Thanks for the review!

  8. I really enjoyed this book, and I'm so glad you did too!

  9. This one speaks to me big time!! Loved your review on this and will be looking for it!

  10. I just picked this up from the library to read in advance of the Book Club Sandwich online book club discussion later this month:

  11. I loved this book on so many levels. It was simply a terrific story, but having a child who has Asperger's, I could relate so well. Jael really captured Asperger's. Just a wonderful story all around. And the recipes are a bonus!
    2 Kids and Tired Books

  12. I know a few people with Asperger's and they really do see things differently. It's taken me quite some time to work with my co-worker who is living with it.


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