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The Kitchen Daughter

The Kitchen Daughter

3.8 40
by Jael McHenry

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Julie & Julia meets Jodi Picoult in this poignant and delectable novel with recipes, chronicling one woman’s journey of self-discovery at the stove.

After the unexpected death of her parents, shy and sheltered twenty-six-year-old Ginny Selvaggio, isolated by Asperger’s Syndrome, seeks comfort in family recipes. But the rich,


Julie & Julia meets Jodi Picoult in this poignant and delectable novel with recipes, chronicling one woman’s journey of self-discovery at the stove.

After the unexpected death of her parents, shy and sheltered twenty-six-year-old Ginny Selvaggio, isolated by Asperger’s Syndrome, seeks comfort in 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—before vanishing like steam from a cooling dish.

A haunted kitchen isn’t Ginny’s only challenge. Her domineering sister Amanda insists on selling their parents’ house in Philadelphia, 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.

Offering a fascinating glimpse into the unique mind of a woman suffering from Asperger’s and featuring evocative and mouth-watering descriptions of food, this lyrical novel is as delicious and joyful as a warm brownie.

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
“This fresh, sharp story has as many layers as a good pâte à choux.”

O, The Oprah Magazine

"For Ginny Selvaggio, the protagonist of Jael McHenry's captivating debut novel, food is a kind of glossary and cooking provides its own magic, whether it's summoning the dead or softening the sharp edges of a world she finds neither comfortable nor familiar. THE KITCHEN DAUGHTER is sweet and bitter-sharp, a lush feast of a novel about the links between flavor and memory, family and identity."
- Carolyn Parkhurst, New York Times bestselling author of DOGS OF BABEL and THE NOBODIES ALBUM

"Magical, strong, and compelling, The Kitchen Daughter asks what is normal, how well do you know your family, and where does grief go? Jael McHenry blends seemingly unmixable ingredients into sustaining answers. I read this book in one satisfying gulp and smiled in comfort when I’d finished this distinctive, nourishing, and wise novel."
- Randy Susan Meyers, author of the international bestseller, THE MURDERER’S DAUGHTERS

"Jael McHenry's debut is a blast of fresh air, featuring an utterly original heroine who filters her view of an unpredictable world through her love of food. A fresh premise, terrific writing, and memorable characters blended beautifully - and made me devour The Kitchen Daughter."
— Sarah Pekkanen, author of SKIPPING A BEAT and THE OPPOSITE OF ME

"Equal parts sweet and savory, THE KITCHEN DAUGHTER by Jael McHenry is a fresh story with all the comforts of home. Ginny’s ability to conjure ghosts while dabbling in family recipes is so touching readers will want to pull up a stool. A heartwarming debut."
- Lynne Griffin, author of SEA ESCAPE and LIFE WITHOUT SUMMER

"This debut novel from Jael McHenry is everything you want in discovering a new writer. The Kitchen Daughter is subtle and effortless and emotional and lovely. The food and recipes aren't gimmicky add-ons, but integral to the momentum of the story — and they make you want to run to the kitchen, except then you’d have to stop reading. It's a layered and satisfying tale."
- Stacey Ballis, author of GOOD ENOUGH TO EAT and THE SPINSTER SISTERS

"Gorgeously written and uniquely delicious, The Kitchen Daughter follows an endearingly awkward character after tragedy upsets the fragile order of her world. Jael McHenry is a true wordsmith who shines in evoking Ginny’s perspective of family and food, her compelling sense of self, and her eventual understanding that you don’t have to be like everyone else in order to belong. A feast of words that makes you glad to be a reader."
- Therese Walsh, author of THE LAST WILL OF MOIRA LEAHY

“A delectable family drama, The Kitchen Daughter whips up a sumptuous blend of suspense, magic and cooking. A nourishing debut.”
—Allison Winn Scotch, New York Times bestselling author of The One That I Want

The Kitchen Daughter is tender, charming and not at all what you expect—which is what makes it a true gem. A beautifully written, boldly thought out tale.”
—Monica Holloway, author of Cowboy & Wills

“A unique voice, richly drawn characters, and a dash of magic—all the right ingredients!”
New York Times bestseller Lisa Genova

"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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Gallery Books
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Meet the Author

Jael McHenry is a talented and enthusiastic amateur cook who blogs about food and cooking at the SIMMER blog, http://simmerblog.com. She is a monthly pop culture columnist and Editor-in-Chief of Intrepid Media, online at intrepidmedia.com. 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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The Kitchen Daughter 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 40 reviews.
Laura Doherty More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous 7 months ago
In my opinion it was an odd book and hard to follow
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An easy read. An interesting story... Definitely worth reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautiful story
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Icecream18JA More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lilac_Wolf More than 1 year ago
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 mark...it 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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jenn-at-GirlsJustReading More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Julie Kane More than 1 year ago
If you like good food and quirky characters this is the perfect book !