The Kitchen Daughter

( 40 )


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 ...

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
An Asperger's-afflicted woman finds the keys to life and her family history in the kitchen after her parents die in McHenry's inspired if uneven debut. Ginny Selvaggio has lived a sheltered life: unable to maintain eye contact, make friends, or finish college due to her undiagnosed condition, the 26-year-old lives in her parents' home, surfing the Internet and perfecting recipes. But after her parents die, Ginny and her sister, Amanda, disagree about what to do with the family home—Amanda wants to sell, Ginny doesn't. As they bicker about what to do with the house and the problems caused by Ginny's awkwardness, Ginny comforts herself by cooking and soon learns that the dishes she prepares can conjure spirits. The ghosts, including her grandmother, leave clues about possible family secrets, as do a box of photographs Ginny discovers tucked away. McHenry's idea of writing an Asperger's narrator works well for the most part, but the supernatural touches undermine her admirable efforts and add a silly element to what is otherwise an intelligent and moving account of an intriguing heroine's belated battle to find herself. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
"Add a pinch of magic, a dash of heartache, and a generous portion of lyrical beauty and you have The Kitchen Daughter, an enchanting tale of familial loss and quiet redemption––I loved it."
- Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET
Library Journal
When Ginny's parents die unexpectedly, she is left on her own for the first time in her 26-year-old life. Unable to cope, Ginny turns her focus to cooking various recipes from the family collection. When the ghosts of the recipe's creators start to appear, seemingly called forth by the rich aromas of Ginny's cooking, does it mean she's going crazy, or is it just her private way of seeking advice and comfort? Ginny's been considered painfully shy and awkward since childhood, but it turns out she's gone undiagnosed with Asperger's syndrome. Her well-meaning parents protected and did everything they could for her, but now that they are gone, her sister wants her finally to get the help she needs. The question is, does she really need help? VERDICT McHenry's debut novel is a sensitive and realistic portrait of someone living with Asperger's. Readers looking for good family-themed women's fiction will enjoy this novel, and the magical element of the cooking ghosts will appeal to fans of Sarah Addison Allen.—Rebecca Vnuk, Forest Park, IL
Kirkus Reviews

Ginny Selvaggio believes that "normal" means nothing, and everything. And she keeps a Normal Book to prove it.

Twenty-something Ginny has Asperger's syndrome, a type of autism sometimes presenting itself as a quirky, difficult personality. Ginny doesn't like crowds, doesn't like to be touched and rarely looks anyone in the eye. And she sometimes hides in a closet when stressed. Now Ginny's protective parents are dead, succumbing to accidental carbon monoxide poisoning while on vacation. Readers meet Ginny the day of the funeral and follow her as she retreats from the crowd to seek comfort in one activity that brings order into her life: cooking. She chooses her Nonna's recipe for bread soup,ribollita,and as the fragrance of soup begins to waft through the kitchen, Nonna's apparition appears, and the ghost tells Ginny "Do no let her." Ginny feels compelled to discover the meaning of her grandmother's admonition, and that quest soon finds Ginny eager to conjure up other ghosts to define and explain her life. To do so, she cooks every hand-written recipe she can find on her bookshelf. McHenry weaves in conflicts with Ginny's younger sister, Amanda, who feels obligated to take over her parents' responsibilities. There's Gert, the Selvaggio's wise and loving housekeeper, with a rich history binding her to the family, and David, Gert's son, a young man in retreat from the world because he caused an auto accident that killed his wife. As the story continues, Ginny's cooking brings the spirit of her mother, her mother's friend from the time Ginny's parents married, a nurse who may or may not have been her father's lover and even Elena, David's wife. With what Ginny hears from the ghosts, and from those who love her, she learns to reach out and say,"I'm out here. I'm okay. I love you."

Skillfully rendered from Ginny's point of view, McHenry's debut novel is a touching tale about loss and grief, love and acceptance.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439191699
  • Publisher: Gallery Books
  • Publication date: 4/12/2011
  • Edition description: Simon & Schuster
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.24 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

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 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.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 40 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 40 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 3, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Fantastic, Unique Food-Lit

    This book was on my TBR wishlist so I was thrilled when the publicist offered it up for review.  This is not your typical food-lit.  It's not about romance, it about families and grieving.  I was a little concerned that this book would be too serious for me (There's a reason I don't read Jodi Picoult books) but I needn't have worried.  It's a wonderful story that incorporates magical realism, food, and contemporary issues. 

    I love that Jael McHenry gave her main character, Ginny, Asperger's.   So often these are things we read about and not read of. The world is a difficult place for Ginny to be to begin with, and now, with the death of her parents, Ginny's world has shrunk.  It is interesting to me that Ginny has never been diagnosed. Yes, it never put a label on her or limitations, but it also means she never got ant extra help at school or learning how to cope.   Ginny's book of normal reminds her that there are all different kinds of 'normal', but perhaps with a name for her symptoms, instead of telling people she 'has a personality', she could have been more focused on defining what's normal for her. It could have helped her finish college...  It might even have taught Amanda some ways to deal with her sister.

    I love that food and food preparation are Ginny's coping mechanism and that Gert uses Ginny's talent in the kitchen to draw Ginny out into the world.  Amanda really does want to help, but she goes about it all wrong. And watching it unfold through Ginny's eyes makes it seem even more difficult than it is. Ginny is willing to help others, if it's in her comfort zone, but she has to learn to help herself.

    If that isn't enough to draw the reader in, Jael McHenry adds a layer of magical realism.  Raising ghosts is enough to unbalance anyone, but for Ginny it's something she can rationalize. However, her Asperger's doesn't allow her to focus on the questions to which she wants answers.  Instead she follows old patterns and misses the big picture. In the end it is her grief, her concern for others and her realizations about her family are what finally force Ginny to accept help and to help herself.

    I usually comment on a author's writing style, especially if it's my first time reading his/her work but I was so involved with the story that I can't really say much about it - so I'd say that in and of itself is impressive. I was absorbed into Ginny's world and her food. Oh, yes, there are recipes too!  Each one is in someone else's handwriting and each one holds special significance to Ginny.  There was only one thing that I wish Ms. McHenry would have resolved a little better, but I don't want to spoil anything, so I'll leave it at that.

    This is a heartwarming tale of family, grieving, and food told through the eyes of someone who sees everything a little bit differently.  I will definitely be seeking out Jael McHenry's work again, even if her next book is not food related, because she has a talent for bringing a story to life.  As for The Kitchen Daughter, it is a must read.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 6, 2011

    Captivated me from the beginning!

    Ginny captured my heart from the beginning. The family dynamics are so real, and who wouldn't want to have a last conversation with a loved one. I couldn't put this book down!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2015

    Good story

    I really was drawn into this book and the character Ginny. I felt so sad for in her isolation and felt for her in how her sister treated her. But all in all a great read. Maybe too much about food but otherwise very enjoyable. Would recommend.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2013

    Good Book

    An easy read. An interesting story... Definitely worth reading.

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  • Posted June 12, 2012

    "The Kitchen Daughter" was next on my must read list,

    "The Kitchen Daughter" was next on my must read list, interested in the point of view from the perspective of one with Aspberger's. I am left very dissapointed. Ms. McHenry's novel leaves much to be desired, and is extremely disjointed. The cooking steps for each recipe became boring and the characters were a little more than flat. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone, there are just too many good novels out there, waiting for you to turn the page.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2012


    Beautiful story

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  • Posted December 10, 2011

    Live To Read

    Looking for a great Christmas gift? This book is guaranteed to keep its reader up late at night, unable to put the book down. Ginny, the main character, is portrayed as quiet and rather stuck in her ways. She lost both of her parents and has an overprotective sister. When she discovers that by baking someones recipe, she can bring back his/her ghost, she begins to experiment. However, she receives warnings, pleas, and quiet reassurances in response. Ginny must decide how much she wants to learn about the past and her family before she learns much too much. Along the way, she meets a man who slowly becomes her friend, slowly helps her adjust to being around someone. There is a soft undertone of romantic possibility in the book; that undertone combined with the air of mystery concerning the past and the ghosts and the possibilities of cooking recipes makes this book impossible to put down.

    Ginny's character was easy to like. Although she could certainly freeze people out, she was a quiet character, she has a certain way about her that appears vulnerable. Even if she does not seem to warm to the reader, the reader will most likely warm to her. The other characters are exceedingly interesting to get to know. They range from scary to loving to secretive. The events in this book moved the plot along at a fast pace. Ginny leads the reader through a baking adventure and the chance to discover some long held past family secrets.

    Overall, this book was a great read. The author has a very even-toned way of telling the story and holding the readers' attention. Ginny's character will appear as a friend to the reader. This book is recommended to adult readers.

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  • Posted September 9, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A Lilac Wolf and Stuff Review

    The cover art is phenomenal on this one. It's a mesh bag holding red peppers, but it's shaped in a way to look like a tank top on a woman. It feels comfortable.

    I knew before reading that this is a book about a young woman with Asperger's Syndrome, but I was shocked to see that she had no idea. Her parents had always told her she had a "personality" and sheltered her probably more than they needed to.

    She loves to cook and is actually great at it. She makes her Nonna's bread soup for comfort during the wake after her parents funeral - all the people touching her and talking to her just push it too far. She flees to the kitchen and finds her Nonna's recipe and when she makes it, her Nonna comes to the kitchen. And that starts the journey...she makes a person's recipe, a recipe written in their own hand, and the ghost of said person shows up.

    In doing this, Ginny starts a journey where she learns secrets in her family she never would have guessed. When she finds a letter of apology from her father to her mother along with pictures of a strange woman, she thinks he had an affair. The truth is so far from that rocks her to her very core.

    She gets diagnosed with the syndrome, and being so smart she takes the advice of her doctor and makes her way out of the house and into life. Proving to herself and her sister that she really can make it on her own. And maybe someday she really will get married and have children of her own.

    I think this book also highlights the dangers of refusing labels. Yes labeling can be bad, but when you avoid it too much, you can miss out on the help your child may need. Ginny's mom wouldn't let the teachers label her, but in doing that Ginny never got the extra help that would have allowed her to fit in more and function outside the house.

    This is exactly the kind of story that I love. And I especially loved Ginny because even though I have never been diagnosed with asperger's syndrome, I can relate to her difficulty with people. I'm not big on touching and I never know the right thing to say or do. Ginny really touched me...this whole story and all the characters touched me.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2011


    I was hesitant about reading this book, because I thought it would be about a medical condition. I assumed it would be boring. I gave it another look, because I cook, and the recipes appealed to me. I'm glad I did. I found it to be an enjoyable read. I like stories with ghosts. I liked the characters, their stories, the cooking, the ghosts, and the ending...for the most part. I don't want to give anything away. Just read it. You'll enjoy it.

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  • Posted June 19, 2011

    Couldn't put this book down !

    If you like good food and quirky characters this is the perfect book !

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  • Posted June 5, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    I read, I cried, I loved.

    Ginny Selvaggio is twenty-six years old, and she's spent her whole life comforted with food. But not eating food, instead making it. Taking recipes and creating dishes, searching food blogs and trying new things. She is an adventurer in her life by searching the internet and reading new food techniques to try out, but she is an adventurer only inside her house. She's never moved out of her parent's home, and with their recent, unexpected deaths, along with her sister wanting to sell the house and move Ginny into her home, Ginny's feeling a little overwhelmed. To cooking she goes. The process of caramelizing onions reassures her, the smells of chocolate occupy her during moments of stress, figuring out how the combinations of a spice with something sweet will enhance each. This is how she copes with it all. And right now, the oddest thing is happening. When she makes the recipes of those who have died, they come back to visit, sitting on the stool in the kitchen, only staying long enough while the smell of their food lingers. And because she can interact with them, she asks them questions, putting her on a path to find out who she really is, to find out why she is the way she is. Ginny is something most people aren't. She's literal. Blunt. If you tell her that she's beating around the bush, she'd probably be confused and, while not looking right at you, respond with something like "I'm not beating around a bush. I'm standing right here." Not surprisingly, this type of personality doesn't win her a lot of friends. And because this book is about cooking, and especially cooking the recipes from family that mean the most, I want to write a clever post with analogies of Ginny's cooking and Jael McHenry's beautiful writing, because the story is a fulfilling creation that leaves the reader, the one consuming, satisfied and full with happiness. But then I want to stop myself because I think that's what everyone else would do. Then, I think, as long as I share with you this important fact from me, it will be okay: this is a book I loved. I loved the quirkiness of Ginny, the tough outer shell of her sister Amanda, the soft comfort of their housekeeper Gert, and Gert's son, the confused and heartbroken David. I read the last half in two hours, making mental notes of each recipe I'll be cooking in my kitchen this weekend when I get home. I already like to cook, but this story gave me an even deeper, more holistic and appreciative view of it. The creation of equal parts sadness, family, love, and food into one flourishing finish of a story that will be devoured quickly, left me with a craving for Jael McHenry's next book. If you like a dash of magical realism, along with cooking, recipes thrown into it all, then I'm pretty sure you'll like this book.

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  • Posted May 30, 2011


    Such a delight! Couldn't put it down!

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  • Posted May 4, 2011

    Kritters Ramblings

    A heart wrenching roller coaster of emotions from complete sadness to a will to fit for what is right, this book is a journey worth taking. Told from the heart of a young adult woman who has lived with her parents her entire life due to her special "personality" or as we may now call it - Aspergers. A love for learning about the people who live with Asperger's, I am drawn to read books where I can inhabit their mind and learn their thought process.

    Ginny, an older sister, yet always treated as special and probably less self suficient, I enjoyed the juxtaposition of her being the older sister, but in a different respect a younger sister too. As a sister, I find the research done on birth order and traits that dominate where you are in the line both intriguing and often times beyond truthful. I am the older sister of the pair and I do feel as though if our parents were to leave us behind that I would be responsible, even though my sister is married and has a family. As the first born it was born into me that I am to always take care of my sister and look out for her - how weird would it be to have our birth order remain the same, but the roles reversed. I can't imagine.

    A book for the women readers - those who love to learn about a family's heartbreak and how the pull together to overcome obstacles, this was truly a great read. I can't wait to pass it on to both my sister and mom.

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  • Posted April 24, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Fantastic Debut!

    This is not your average, everyday novel. No, far from it. This debut is filled with emotions-all kinds (sadness, happiness, confusion, coping), humor, and lots of recipes. Jael McHenry is an author who, continuing to write novels like this, will rise to the top quickly. She drew me in to the instantly. I started it on a Tuesday evening and was done by Wednesday night.

    I don't have Asperger's, but I've known some people who do, and I was really interested in seeing how Ginny was portrayed in this novel having Asperger's. I was blown away! I actually felt myself drawn completely into Ginny's character-actually felt the things she did as she experienced the deaths of both her parents, and then her overbearing sister, Amanda. I've seen first hand that people with Asperger's deal with coping with life in so many different ways. Some withdraw into themselves, others reach out to others, and then there are the Ginny's of Asperger's: coping by doing something they love and enjoy. In Ginny's case, she cooks. She becomes the kitchen daughter.

    Yes, Ginny turns to cooking to cope. However, there's a unique twist to Ginny's cooking. She cooks up the recipes deceased owners! Where do ghosts fit into this seemingly moving and serious debut? In the hand written recipes that Ginny uses to cook her food....she brings their spirits back as she conjures up the food :-).

    I highly recommend this debut novel. Not having Asperger's myself, but seeing and knowing someone who does have it, I am pleased at how well McHenry portrayed the different aspects of Asperger's. She hit the nail dead on with this four star worthy debut. I would definitely read this novel again and again. A wonderful (and with recipes included might I add-delicious!) novel about finding your true self, no matter what, and embracing life full on.

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  • Posted April 23, 2011

    Very Magical

    Ginny can't interact with people normally, but she truly comes alive through her cooking. It "normalizes" her like nothing else and even reading the recipes calms her and puts her mind in order like nothing else since she has Aperger's Syndrome. After Ginny's parents die suddenly, her sister Amanda (Demanda) decides to sell the only home Ginny has ever known. Ginny also has a special gift: she can raise spirits from the recipes they left behind. Using this gift, Ginny tries to unravel family secrets by asking the ghosts themselves for help. Amanda has her reasons for the move, but seems to discard Ginny's feelings about moving from her home and security.

    This is just such an amazing read. It reminded me of a cross between Jodi Picoult and Sarah Addison Allen and a bit of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime. I really enjoyed how McHenry weaved in her love of cooking through out the story. Most of the start off with a copy of a recipe and they lead into the story for that chapter. I thought Ginny was such a great character and that Amanda made an excellent foil for her. It was nice to Ginny come into her own at the end.

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  • Posted April 18, 2011

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    Bridget's Review

    The Kitchen Daughter blew me away. After reading the first thirty pages, I was hooked and didn't come up for air. I did have to take a break while reading it even though I didn't want to. It's amazing how a book can make it's way into your heart and you almost feel like it's a friend, not a book. That's how I feel about The Kitchen Daughter. I recommend this book to everyone.

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  • Posted April 9, 2011

    more from this reviewer


    The Kitchen Daughter is a unique coming of age story. Jael McHenry has written this beautiful, lyrical story about a young woman brutally forced to grow up after the death of her parents. The transformation of Ginny was masterfully written. She went from the grief-stricken child hiding in the closet to this strong young woman willing to face her fears for a dear family friend. It was absolutely beautiful to witness. Jael McHenry has written a phenomenal story that is guaranteed to become a book club favorite

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    Posted November 20, 2011

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    Posted October 5, 2014

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    Posted June 16, 2011

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