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Starting from Scratch: A Novel

Starting from Scratch: A Novel

4.6 12
by Susan Gilbert-Collins

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Why is someone who just defended her doctoral dissertation still wasting her time at her childhood home, two months after her mother’s funeral, making coq au vin and osso buco? Olivia Tschetter, the youngest of four high-achieving South Dakotan siblings, is not returning to “normal”—or to graduate school— quickly enough to suit her family


Why is someone who just defended her doctoral dissertation still wasting her time at her childhood home, two months after her mother’s funeral, making coq au vin and osso buco? Olivia Tschetter, the youngest of four high-achieving South Dakotan siblings, is not returning to “normal”—or to graduate school— quickly enough to suit her family. She wants only to bury herself in her mother’s kitchen, finding solace in their shared passion for cooking.

Threatened with grief counseling, Olivia accepts a temporary position at the local Meals on Wheels, where she stumbles upon some unfinished business from her mother’s past—and a dark family secret. Startling announcements from two siblings also challenge the family’s status quo. The last thing she needs is a deepening romantic interest in a close but platonic (she thought) friend.

But while Olivia’s mother is gone, her memory and spirit continue to engage Olivia, who finds herself daring to speak when she would never have spoken before. Told with humor and compassion, Starting from Scratch explores the shifting of family dynamics in the wake of shattering loss and the healing power of cooking.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Protagonist Olivia Tschetter has come home from graduate school following the sudden death of her mother. While in her hometown in South Dakota, family secrets and new surprises boil over, but it takes too long for the bubbles to rise in Gilbert-Collins's debut. Oddly, one secret Olivia herself keeps is passing her thesis defense at graduate school. Olivia looks to find solace by taking over her mom's cooking legacy and regular recipe newsletter, but this supposed love of the kitchen is barely apparent, except for an occasional peppered note, "She stood in the produce department, hefting the garlic bulbs one by one, fingering the pearl onions in their papery skin, and felt herself slowly relax." Although recipes are cleverly included, some of the most appetizing dishes are left undisclosed. Gilbert-Collins has a good sense of characterization, but it's not enough to save her story. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
"What a wonderful story of familial love, loss, and the healing power of made-from-scratch food. I was completely absorbed by the lives of the Tschetter family, and I very much want to be invited to their house for dinner on a night when Olivia is cooking. Susan Gilbert-Collins has written a fantastic debut novel: warm, witty, and redemptive."

—Susan Rebecca White, author of A Soft Place to Land

“Take one part Jane Hamilton, one part Julie Powell, season liberally with originality, and you have Starting from Scratch, the tender, humorous debut. Blowing away preconceptions about contemporary Midwesterners, this novel will be of particular interest to anyone who's clashed with a sibling, mourned the passing of a parent or wondered, even in young adulthood, what they're going to do when they grow up.”

—Sally Koslow, author of Little Pink Slips and With Friends like These.

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Meet the Author

Born and raised in South Dakota, Susan Gilbert-Collins studied English at Oberlin College and holds an M.A. in English as a Second Language from the University of Minnesota. While she enjoyed teaching international students and adult immigrants, she now freelances as a technical writer in order to have more time to focus on her first love, fiction. She lives with her husband and young son in Rochester, New York.

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Starting from Scratch 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Food has always dominated the Tschetter family. When the matriarch Vivian dies, her husband and four adult children toast their beloved with food that provides them with some comfort. The youngest twenty-seven year old single woman Olivia, who just defended her dissertation, was the closest to their mom so she struggles the most with her departure. Olivia shared everything with her mother and not just their love of cooking. Although her dad and her siblings worry about her, Olivia returns to her childhood home and replaces her mom as the hostess at family get-togethers. Starting from Scratch is a strong introspective family drama that is mostly seen through the eyes of Olivia. The death of the matriarch impacts her loved ones differently though all mourn their loss. The older siblings worry about their youngest sister who is the most like their late mom. Olivia's "chats" with mom enable the reader to comprehend why she is cherished in death as she laws adored and loved in life. Ironically though food is a prime healing ingredient, the recipes feel intrusive as this is a great psychological character study primarily focusing mostly on grieving as a personal emotional reaction to the death of a loved one although there is also insight into the psychology of siblings. Susan Gilbert-Collins provides a discerning powerful tale. Harriet Klausner
debhgrty More than 1 year ago
Deb’s Dozen: Olivia and her family, plus friends—consumed by grief, consoled by cooking. Olivia Tschetter has just successfully defended her doctoral dissertation when she learns her mother, Vivian, has died. Vivian was the  only one who knew that Olivia was going to do her defense, and now she can’t tell her mother that she succeeded. At home, not talking about her studies, but cooking up a storm—Olivia tries to cope with her grief. Her family suggests counseling to get her out of the house, so instead Olivia takes her sister Annie’s place at the local Meals on Wheels and becomes a part-time volunteer. Along the way, while delivering meals, she meets an old friend of Vivian’s. And along the way we get to know the rest of the family as well as the family secrets. Susan Gilbert-Collins writes in a very erudite fashion as she leads us through Olivia’s story. She takes us inside Olivia’s mind—we read  her thoughts as she’s thinking them—almost in stream-of-consciousness style. Olivia, obviously well-educated (she’s a Ph.D. after all even if her family doesn’t know), also loves cooking. We’re treated to some delicious recipes as Olivia works her way through her grief. You will find Olivia’s story compelling. I enjoyed reading about the foibles of the people at Meals on Wheels and their clients. I could understand her thoughts and reluctance to deal with Vivian’s death. When my mom died, I had to change her room out immediately— to keep busy so I could survive my grief at her loss. Olivia finds being busy a solution too—keeping occupied with Meals on Wheels and with cooking. Being inside a character’s head so deeply makes for a challenging, but rewarding, read. Four stars. Susan Gilbert-Collins gave me a copy of Starting From Scratch in exchange for my candid review.
alykatdesigns More than 1 year ago
Absolutely loved this story. Got caught up in the personalities of the characters, thinking about them as I dozed off to sleep and when I first woke in the mornings! Looking forward to trying some of the recipes. Especially enjoyed the book's setting, Brookings SD, as I live near that community. Wonderful read, will be fun to discuss at book club!
DKayM More than 1 year ago
What a great way to learn about the grieving process. I highly recommend this book for any age.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good story line. Didnt like ending. Left alot hanging
Trishinomaha More than 1 year ago
I love any book with an incredibly good story and the recipes included are the icing on the cake. This book is a look into a somewhat complicated family but all the characters are so well drawn you feel as though they really are all still living up there somewhere in Brookings SD and getting on with their lives. I highly recommend this book if you like a good story - it's hard to put down. More please Ms. Gilbert-Collins!
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