The Kitchen Daughter: Review and Free Giveaway

1439191697The Kitchen Daughterby Jael McHenry
Release date: 2011 / 272 pages

Synopsis (from the jacket cover): After the unexpected death of her parents, shy and sheltered Ginny Selvaggio, a young woman with Asperger’s syndrome, seeks comfort in the kitchen, away from her well-meaning but interfering relatives and her domineering sister, Amanda.  The methodical chopping, slicing, and stirring soothe her anxiety, and the rich aroma of ribollita, painstakingly recreated from her Italian grandmother’s handwritten recipe, calms her senses. But it also draws an unexpected visitor: the ghost of Nonna herself, bearing a cryptic warning in rough English, “Do no let her,” before vanishing like steam from a cooling dish.

First Sentence: Bad things come in threes.

Review:  Lately I’ve enjoyed most of what TLC has sent me to review, but The Kitchen Daughter is truly exceptional and one of my favorite novels so far this year. 

The premise is compelling – a woman with undiagnosed Asberger’s is trying to come to terms with the death of both parents, while planning her own, newly independent future and forging a mature relationship with her sister.  The narration is told entirely from the perspective of the protagonist, so she seems entirely credible (and extremely likeable).  However, Ginny’s fascination with what constitutes “normal,” Amanda’s anxieties about Ginny’s ability to live independently, and Ginny’s ability to see ghosts lend a complexity to the narration that is fascinating to experience.  Despite seeing ghosts – invoked only when Ginny uses the person’s recipe and lasting only the duration of the smell of the dish – her voice is deeply plausible and authentically resonates with the many autistic students I had in my classroom. Viewing the world through Ginny’s eyes is a journey through the power of perception, community, independence, and identity.

But beyond the compelling premise and masterful narration, McHenry’s prose is lush, visceral, and generous – which reflects Ginny’s world and passions, even when the world sees her from a distance.   Ginny has a gift with cooking and views people and experiences through metaphors of food and recipes.   For example, soon after her parents’ funeral, Ginny describes her experience of needing to escape her fellow mourners:

“I push past Connie, I can feel bone under the flesh of her shoulder like the shank end of a ham, and I nearly trip on the step down into the next room and everyone is there, not just shoes but knees and elbows and torsos and open mouths. I have to get out, but they’re all in my way. I shove through. I feel oven-hot skin, clammy fish-flesh skin, damp chicken-liver skin, they’re all around me. My heart beats faster, the chant matching, get/out/get/out/get.”

When anxious, Ginny imagines cooking various dishes to calm herself:

“The onions, I need the idea of the onions, I soothe myself with it. Slowly growing golden. Giving off that scent, the last of the raw bite mixed with the hint of the sweetness to come. I press my forehead down against my knees, crushing the boots between my chest and thighs. My forehead is hot. My knees are hot. Thin, long strands shaved on a mandolin start as solid half-moons and melt away over time. More salt? No, just patience. Stir. Wait. Adjust the heat. Wait. Stir.”

When her sister recommends that Ginny get screened for Asberger’s, she contemplates Amanda’s choice of words through the metaphor of cooking:

“’Screened’ makes me think of food getting rubbed through a screen. It’s a French technique. Soups get screened, and sauces. Forced through a tamis or chinois. Everything that comes out is smooth and all the rough parts get left behind, thrown away. I don’t want to be screened.”

Ginny describes the voices of people in her life viscerally as well. Her sister: “She has a voice like orange juice, sweet but sharp.”  Her friend: “His voice is muddy, that’s what it is. Dark and brown and muddy. A note to it like coffee left too long on the burner. And unsweetened, bitter chocolate. But there’s dirt in it too, deep, dark dirt, like the garden in October.”  Her father: “His voice reminds me of tomato juice because there’s a metallic note to it.”

I truly loved experienced this novel and would strongly recommend this novel to book clubs – and most readers.  However, I do not recommend reading this novel on an empty stomach – McHenry brings tantalizing recipes to life (provided at the start of many chapters).  

Interested in winning a free copy? Drop me a comment below and I will choose a lucky winner by the weekend! 

Be sure to check out other opinions of this novel, too:

Monday, April 11th:  girlichef
Wednesday, April 13th:  Mockingbird Hill Cottage
Thursday, April 14th:  She is Too Fond of Books
Friday, April 15th:  Book Club Classics!
Monday, April 18th:  The Singleton in the Kitchen
Tuesday, April 19th:  Back to Books
Wednesday, April 20th:  Coffee and a Book Chick
Thursday, April 21st:  Books Like Breathing
Monday, April 25th:  Simply Stacie
Tuesday, April 26th:  Book Reviews by Molly
Wednesday, April 27th:  Kahakai Kitchen
Thursday, April 28th:  2 Kids and Tired
Monday, May 2nd:  The Brain Lair
Tuesday, May 3rd:  Stephanie’s Written Word
Friday, May 6th:  Book Addiction
Monday, May 9th:  Farmgirl Fare
Tuesday, May 10th:  Overstuffed
Wednesday, May 11th:  Books, Movies, and Chinese Food
Friday, May 13th:  The Literate Housewife Review

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43 Responses to The Kitchen Daughter: Review and Free Giveaway

  1. Anna says:

    Yum, riboletta and more. With an Italian mother-in-law, I’d love to read and savor this book. Thanks.

  2. Bonnie Crow says:

    It sounds like a very unique coming of age story! Would love to add it to my book club recommendation list,if I am fortunate to win a copy.

  3. Margie says:

    I’ve had my eye on this book. Thanks for the giveaway.

  4. Anita Yancey says:

    Loved your review on this book. I would enjoy reading Ginny’s story, and the fact that she sees ghosts makes for interesting reading. Please enter me. Thanks!

  5. Carol Wong says:

    I like that the girl in the book has Asperger’s and that it covers issues relevant to it. My brother has severe autism so there is no question that he will ever be independent but for Asperger’s, it is it possible and not possible?


  6. Linda says:

    This sounds like a delicious book to savor. Thanks for your review and the opportunity for a giveaway!

  7. Mary says:

    I would love to read this book. I worked in Social Services and encountered Asperger’s in some of my clients and in addition, I have a cousin I grew up with who had Asperger’s as well. This is of great interest to me. Thanks.

  8. CarolK says:

    I’ve got a display going now on books with “Daughter” in the title. This one sounds like a sounda addition to the group.

  9. Melanie says:

    I’ve bookmarked several reviews of this book. And I’m sitting here this morning making out my list of titles to read, and this book is on the list. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Carol M says:

    I would love to read this! Being Italian and being interested in both ghosts and cooking, I know I would enjoy it! Thank you!
    mittens0831 at aol dot com

  11. Sounds very good. As a school nurse am always interested in more on Aspergers to better understand my students.

  12. Would love to read this one> As a school nurse and just for fun.

  13. Renee says:

    I want this book! Please pick me:)

  14. Araceli says:

    This book sounds wonderful:) Thank you for your review and the chance to win this book!

  15. Leah says:

    this book sounds amazing! I would love to win it/read it!

  16. I love family books. I think this topic is really important as families struggle with situations they did not expect and, often, do not really understand.

  17. Sherrie Gil says:

    I am always looking for a new author and a new book to read. Thanks for entering me in the drawing.

  18. Lynne says:

    This sounds like a very interesting story!!! Hope to win!

  19. katherine schulz says:

    sounds enticing! Still Alice (byt not really) meets Like Water for Chocolate…

  20. Debbie says:

    Sounds like an excellent read! Would love to win a copy!

  21. diana says:

    this sounds great thanks

  22. Nina Priddy says:

    This book sounds good, thanks for the chance to win it, I would love it !!

  23. pearl says:

    Thanks for this wonderful giveaway. Sounds wonderful.

  24. nfmgirl says:

    Sounds awesome! Please count me in. Thank you!

    nfmgirl AT gmail DOT com

  25. Tanya says:

    Sounds like a fun read, full of intersting turns! Thanks for sharing, I am adding it to my reading list.

  26. ~claudia says:

    Love the cover art! Looking forward to reading this. 🙂

  27. Renee Rearden says:

    LOVE the blurb. Totally hooked by the voice and descriptions. What an incredible way of showing one girl’s journey through her own, unique filter. I look forward to reading The Kitchen Daughter.

    Thank you for the great giveaway


  28. Judith says:

    I know of families dealing with aspergers. and I have lost both my parents. I can see making connections with this book

  29. Wendy says:

    The book sounds fascinating! Asberger’s is very complex and awareness, through writing, is the key to understanding. I would look forward to reading this book. Thank you!

  30. Rebecca Booth says:

    Love the Synopsis and Review! My parents died when I was a teenager, and I lost my husband to cancer in 2001. I have lived in the house of my parents for 67 years, and there are visions of the ghosts of my loved ones, but they are comforting to me! I definiately understand needing to escape fellow mourners. I would love to view the world through Ginny’s eyes!

  31. Mona Garg says:

    I enjoy books about food and family drama and this one has both. Also, I don’t know much about Asperger’s so I could learn something as well.

  32. Shirley says:

    I’ve read so many reviews about this book and would love to win a copy so I might form an opinion too. I love a book with recipes!


  33. JO says:

    I would be interested in reading this novel also. Thanks for your review.

  34. Belinda says:

    What a great foundation to the story. Love the food connects. Will definitely add to the read list…. So many books…so little time!

  35. Liz says:

    This sounds like a great book. Loved your review!

  36. Tamara says:

    I’m a little late responding, but I’m already tempted by the food without even having read the book.

  37. Noreen says:

    Would love to read this book. Your review made it sound very appealing.

  38. Ruthie B says:

    Hope I’m not too late…I would love this one!

  39. Diane Castiglione says:

    Sounds like a great book to read. Would like the chance to read it.

  40. Laura says:

    I will definitely read this book! Having worked with Asperger’s kids in Middle School I can so relate to the way Ginny reacts to others and the world around her!

  41. Lisamm says:

    I’m really belated in my commenting, obviously, but just wanted to thank you for the exceptional review. I recently read The Kitchen Daughter myself and just loved it. Thanks for being on the tour!

  42. Pingback: Best I Read in 2011 | BOOK CLUB CLASSICS!

  43. Sheila Herman says:

    This sounds like a good book, both informative and interesting. Thanks for your book giveaways, I know one day I will be the lucky recipient.

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