The Kitchen Daughter

The Kitchen Daughter

by Jael McHenry

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781439191965
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: 04/12/2011
Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 177,354
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Jael McHenry is a talented and enthusiastic amateur cook who writes about food and cooking. She is a monthly pop culture columnist and editor-in-chief of Intrepid Media, online a 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.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Kitchen Daughter includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Jael McHenry.The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


INTRODUCTION

With the unexpected death of her parents, twenty-six-year-old Ginny Selvaggio finds that her safe, sheltered existence has completely shattered. Painfully shy and unsure of adulthood, Ginny seeks comfort in the only place that has ever brought her peace: the kitchen.

But the kitchen has its own surprises in store for Ginny. The scent of her Nonna’s rich, peppery soup summons the spirit of Nonna, and she leaves Ginny with a cryptic warning. Suddenly, Ginny is forced to untangle hidden family secrets, all while dealing with her domineering sister Amanda. Ginny comes to realizes that the ghosts of her loved ones can be beckoned back to her kitchen by cooking from their recipes. But she must decide if she has the courage to face the truths they will reveal about her family—and about herself.

TOPICS & QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

1. Ginny undergoes a great transformation through the course of the novel. Compare the early version of Ginny with the woman she is by the end. Do you feel she has changed? In what ways?

2. “Food has power. Nonna knew that. Ma did too. I know it now. And though it can’t save me, it might help me, in some way.” (p. 45) Do you agree with Ginny that food has power? What did food and the kitchen do for Ginny? Is there something you turn to such as cooking, cleaning, or organizing as a means of coping with your emotions? Or is there a place you go to (as Ginny goes to the kitchen) that makes you feel safe?

3. Many times throughout the story, Amanda appears domineering and high-handed. But do you think Ginny is also quick to judge her sister? Did you relate more to one or the other? Why do you think Amanda feels she has to assume the role of the older sister?

4. Ginny observes, “They say you learn by doing, but you don’t have to. If you only learn from your own experience, you’re limited.” (p. 38) If Ginny had applied this advice outside of the kitchen, do you think she might have had an easier time relating to her sister? Do you agree with her observation, or do you think avoiding mistakes others have made is a different way of limiting yourself?

5. Discussing Elena’s death, David remarks that it might have been better if he had never met her. He says, “I wouldn’t have ever loved her, and that would’ve been my loss, but how bad is a loss you don’t know about? You can’t mourn all the people you could’ve loved but didn’t. You mourn the ones you loved and lost.” (p. 245) Do you agree with his statement? Why or why not?

6. Gert warns Ginny not to summon the spirit of Elena, but Ginny doesn’t listen. Would you have done the same? Why or why not? If you were in David’s shoes, would you want to see the spirit of someone you loved? If Elena had appeared the first time Ginny cooked her dish, do you feel things might have ended differently?

7. Do you think Ginny asked the right questions of the spirits she summoned? What would you have asked if you were in her place?

8. How did you feel about the way Amanda tricked Ginny into going to see Dr. Stewart? Do you think Ginny would have gone to see someone eventually, if Amanda hadn’t forced her? Is it a situation where the end justifies the means? Why do you think communication between the two sisters was so difficult?

9. Along with the kitchen, Ginny often turns to the Normal Book to calm herself. She tells David, “See? Normal means a lot of things to a lot of people. You’re normal. Don’t worry. It’s okay.” (p. 269) Do you agree with her? Do you think normal is a term that has a single definition, or not? Do you think we try too hard to label people as one thing or another?

10. The theme of appearance, in opposition to reality, is central to the book. What are some of the obvious, and not so obvious, examples of this idea? What does Ginny come to understand about the way things appear versus the way they truly are?

11. Ginny’s father hid a very important secret from his family. Do you feel he was right to keep both his and Ginny’s condition a secret from Ginny and Amanda? Do you think by trying to protect her, he ultimately did her a greater disservice?

12. The title of the novel is The Kitchen Daughter. Discuss the significance in relation to the story. What does the kitchen teach Ginny? How does trust, both in and out of the kitchen, play a part in Ginny’s shifting perspectives?


ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB

1. Ginny has certain recipes that specifically conjure certain family members. Prepare and bring a dish special to you to the meeting—if the scent could bring a ghost back, who would it be? What’s the story behind the dish?

2. Check out author Jael McHenry’s SIMMER blog at simmerblog.typepad.com. Pick a recipe or two to try after you’ve finished discussing the book!

3. Compare this novel to other novels that share themes of food and self-discovery such as Julie and Julia or Under the Tuscan Sun. How are they similar? How are they different? If The Kitchen Daughter was made into a movie, who would you cast?

4. Research Asperger’s Syndrome and autism and have each member present an interesting fact. Are you surprised by what you learn?

5. Do you have an item that is to you what the Normal Book is to Ginny? Have each member bring their “Normal Book” to the bookclub and discuss!


A CONVERSATION WITH JAEL McHENRY

What inspired you to write The Kitchen Daughter? What was the experience of writing a novel like for you?

When I started writing the book, I had just moved to Philadelphia, and I lived just a few blocks away from the Italian Market, which is this amazing area with fruit and vegetable stands, and Italian stores full of pasta and salumi and cheeses. I’d always enjoyed cooking, but at that particular point in my life I really started to get serious about expanding my skills and trying new things, and shopping at the Italian Market gave me great ingredients to play with. The more time I spent there, the more I was amazed by the great sense of tradition and identity. There are these Italian families that have been running shops there for generations, and that really spoke to me, the connection between food and family.

So I started developing this character who loves food and loves cooking, but is completely closed off from the world, a young woman who just can’t connect to people. Because food is such a wonderful way to connect, I wanted to create this conundrum, this person who doesn’t use it to connect, has never used it to connect. And she couldn’t just be shy or nervous. She needed to have a real obstacle, not just something she could “get over” by the end of the book. That’s where the Asperger’s came in.

As for the writing process, the first draft came very quickly—it took only a few months to write—but there was a lot of rewriting and reshaping to find the core of the story I really wanted to tell. It wasn’t easy, but I’m so happy with the result.

How has being both a columnist and a food blogger impacted your fiction writing? Are there any particular websites you draw comfort or inspiration from, as Ginny does from Kitcherati?

I think the more you write, the better you get, and you develop skills in one type of writing that you can apply to another. For instance, for the Internet, your writing needs to be crisp and sharp and digestible. If people have trouble following your point, they’ll just go click on something else. My natural fiction style is to write long, flowing compound sentences, but I knew that wasn’t how Ginny would think—you have to watch out for things like that in first-person narrative—so my online writing experience came in handy when developing her voice. It’s short. Almost fragmented.

As for websites, there are definitely blogs and sites I go to almost every day. Serious Eats and eGullet, I think they’re mentioned in the novel, I visit them a lot. They’re interactive and discussion-oriented. Among the blogs, my personal favorite for inspiration is Smitten Kitchen. Her photography is just achingly gorgeous.

There are great descriptions of meal preparations in the book, and you yourself are an enthusiastic cook. What is your favorite dish? Is there a story behind it, or a particular memory it conjures?

I have a whole lot of favorites! Nearly all of them are family recipes, so they’re important to me because of who made them and where they came from. Pierogi from the Ukrainian branch of the family, Cornish pasties (not pastries, pasties, pronounced like “past” not “paste”, they’re meat pies with potatoes and rutabaga in a flaky crust) from the English side, rum cake and bourbon balls at Christmas, Grandma’s butterhorn rolls, the list goes on and on. Because my background and Ginny’s are different, it didn’t make sense to use many of my own family recipes in the book, but I did sneak one in there: the biscuits with sausage gravy are a McHenry classic. Either my mom or my dad will make them at least once whenever the family gets together. I grew up on that gravy. Ooh, and potato puffs. That’s what I used to have for my birthday when I was a kid, fondue and potato puffs, which are mashed potatoes mixed with cream puff dough and then fried. Incredible. And now I’m hungry.

Your heroine Ginny suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, though she doesn’t realize it for the majority of the novel. What made you decide to write her this way? Was it difficult to delve into the mind of someone who sees the world in a very different way than most? What kind of research on Asperger’s was required to make her believable and multi-dimensional in your mind? Was there a reason you chose Asperger’s as opposed to another developmental condition?

As I said a little earlier, I knew from the beginning I wanted Ginny to be closed off from the world, to have an obstacle that kept her from connecting with people. At the time I was just becoming aware of Asperger’s syndrome—I’d met John Elder Robison, actually, that was part of it—and I wondered if it might fit the story. Then the more I found out about Asperger’s, the more I realized that I was already writing Ginny with many of the characteristics of someone on the autism spectrum. Then when I did more extensive research, including reading a lot of first-hand accounts, it became really important to me that Asperger’s be part of her identity and her story. When I was looking for an agent, actually, several of them told me the novel would be easier to sell without it, but I’m really glad I stuck to my guns.

Was it difficult? Absolutely! Writing in Ginny’s point of view was a huge challenge, because so many of the usual narrative techniques were just completely unavailable. She doesn’t look at people’s faces. She can’t read body language. She isn’t going to say “Amanda looked angry” or “I could tell he didn’t mean it” or any one of a thousand other things that would have been natural in some other character’s voice.

Since Asperger’s manifests differently in different people, I had to make choices about her particular instance, and what she was capable of, and how much she couldn’t do because of Asperger’s, and how much she couldn’t do just because she’d never tried, or been allowed to try. As part of the process, I read a lot of first-hand writing from people with Asperger’s, like Gavin Bollard’s “Life With Aspergers” blog, and a great book called Women From Another Planet?, which is a series of essays written by women with autism and Asperger’s, talking about love and work and family and all aspects of their lives. I learned as much as I could about the spectrum, and I picked a point on that spectrum for Ginny to inhabit, along with deciding on all her other characteristics—her sense of humor, her physical appearance, her family relationships, her fears and hopes and strengths, all that.



The book opens with the line: “Bad things come in threes.” Do you believe that’s true?

Honestly? I don’t. I believe we’re always trying to make order out of randomness, and that’s where that saying came from. But it’s something Ginny would believe, because she needs rules and patterns. So that was always the first sentence of the book. That came very early in the process. I always wanted to kick the book off with that contrast, that she lumps those three things together. Most of us would consider death the most traumatic thing possible. But for Ginny, being surrounded by strangers who are actively focusing on her, wanting to touch her and talk to her, that’s almost as traumatic.

Who or what inspired the recipes you chose for each spirit that Ginny brings to life?

The recipe inspiration came from all sorts of places. In some cases the characters drove the recipes, and sometimes it was the other way around. I wanted a Cuban character because I wanted to include a recipe for picadillo, and I read this fascinating interview with a Jewish—Cuban woman, and that’s how Gert came to be. Along the way the scene with the picadillo went away and Gert’s role evolved into something else, with the burial committee, helping bring Ginny out into the world. Most of the other stories are simpler. Elena is from Peru because my husband loves aji de gallina. The biscuits and gravy, like I said earlier, is a family recipe of mine. The 12-minute egg instructions are funny because I don’t actually cook eggs, I don’t like them, but I knew I’d heard somewhere that 12 minutes was the magic amount of time. Then I was talking with my mom about boiling eggs one day and she mentioned “12 minutes” and I thought, “Oh! Right. That’s where I heard it.”

What else is there? Right, the ribollita, the very first recipe. I wanted something simple, and it’s a simple peasant dish, so it would be comforting and she would have all the ingredients right there to make it. And the brownies, there are so many great brownie recipes out there but I really wanted my own that was unique to the book, and I absolutely love salt with chocolate. So I just started playing around. I wanted them dark and not too sweet and salty like tears. Luckily, my critique group was available to eat my experiments.

Many authors find that their characters are extensions of themselves, in one way or another. Do you find that to be true? Are any of the characters in Kitchen Daughter based on people you know?

In a lot of ways, everything about Ginny’s life is the opposite of mine. For one thing, I get along with my mother really well! Always have. So that relationship was hard to write, especially that big argument in the kitchen, because I just have no experience with that kind of tension. I did draw heavily on my life, but not in the way you’d think—it’s the places, not the people. That corner that Ginny lives on, right next to Pennsylvania Hospital—I lived on that corner. When Ginny looks up Broad Street and stares at City Hall, or she walks along Spruce or Pine looking for the antique bootscrapers next to the brownstone stairs, that’s the most of me you see in the novel. You’d think it’s the cooking, but I don’t even cook like Ginny cooks. I’ve never followed a recipe letter for letter in my life. (Well, not until I tested the ones I was going to put in the book.) I’m much more improvisational in the kitchen, and even when I do cook from a recipe, I’ll nearly always change something.

In many ways this is a sister story, as the complicated relationship between Ginny and Amanda is central to the development of the novel. Do you have a sister? If so, did you draw any parallels between your life and the relationship between Ginny and Amanda?

Again, kind of the opposite. No sister. I do have an older brother, but he is very cool (Hi, Derek!), and has never tried to run my life the way Amanda tries to run Ginny’s. Like the tense relationship between Ginny and her mother, the tense relationship between Ginny and Amanda is something I don’t have experience with. I had to stretch to get it right. But the circumstances of the story really drove it—if a person is used to taking care of things, it’s not unlikely that they’ll perceive a family member as one more thing that needs taking care of, especially in a time of crisis. Even though she’s the antagonist, on some level, Amanda’s right—can Ginny really take care of herself? How can anyone know for sure?—so I really enjoyed the complexity of that relationship, and I hope it drives a lot of good conversations between readers.

One of the most significant ideas in the book is the idea that there is no such thing as “normal.” Is that a mantra you live by? What gave you the idea for Ginny’s Normal Book?

You know, I do believe that. I enjoy reading advice columns, and that’s a true thing, the idea that people always want to know if their feelings or their husband’s behavior or their sister’s ultimatum is “normal.” And whether it’s “normal”, whether it happens to everyone else or not, that’s not important. What’s important is that it’s happening to you. The Normal Book grew out of that, the idea that the advice columnist is this judge of sorts, the stranger who people ask for a ruling. Across the excerpts of the Normal Book you’ll see a pretty wide range of where “normal” comes into play. I just felt like that would reassure Ginny, and it’s true, that “normal” to one person is “abnormal” to another and that’s why it’s a largely useless distinction.



Are you planning to return to Ginny and this cast of characters in your next book, or do you feel like their story is finished? If so, where do you think you’ll go next?

I’ve gotten really attached to Ginny, but I think the arc of this book is the crux of her story. These few months are where everything changes for her. So if I do explore more of this cast of characters, it would probably be in short stories and not a whole novel. Each of these people – David, Gert, Amanda, and certainly Ginny’s parents—has a rich history we only glimpse in this book, so I may come back and tell other parts of those stories someday. Right now I’m working on another novel with a first-person narrator and she is very unlike Ginny – bold, shifty, a born storyteller—so I’m exercising totally different writing muscles on that project. But it’s another story of transformation and magic, so I think readers who enjoyed The Kitchen Daughter will find some familiar ground in it.

Who are your writing influences and what are you currently reading?

I have three all-time favorite books: Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, and All About Braising by Molly Stevens. Of those three, Atwood has definitely had the most influence on my writing (though Stevens has had the most influence on my cooking, and as far as cookbooks go, AAB is remarkably well-written.) I’m always impressed with writers who find ways to break the rules. Both Atwood and Eugenides are brilliant at that.

What I’m reading right now, it’s the same type of thing—it’s Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad—it just amazes me when writers take a giant leap into the unknown and it somehow works. This book has a whole chapter in Powerpoint. Powerpoint! And it works, because it’s the character’s voice, it’s the character’s thought process, and the writer has done a brilliant job of making herself invisible. It sounds weird to aspire to invisibility, but that’s always my goal.

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The Kitchen Daughter 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 53 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!
happyhinsons on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Delectable debut novel...I just finished reading the novel, The Kitchen Daughter, by Jael McHenry. I received this book as an ARC in the mail. After reading this story I was surprised to find that this is the debut novel for the author. I was pleasantly drawn into the story from the first page. This book is about a pair of 20-something-year-old sisters who recently lost both their parents to an accident. One of the sisters, the main character, Ginny, has many symptoms of Asperger syndrome, although she has never been classified as autistic. She is very smart and capable but has never lived away from home. She finds comfort in cooking elaborate recipes and is even soothed by the thoughts of cooking. I love the descriptions McHenry uses to convey the images of textures, tastes, scents, and even techniques of cooking. After her parents death Ginny finds she is able to conjure ghosts of the people who have hand written recipes that she and her mother have saved over the years. I found myself very interested in knowing how Ginny's story was going to turn out and was not disappointed at the end of the journey. Even though there is much sadness surrounding this family I found this book to be enjoyable.
julie10reads on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Seeking comfort in traditional family culinary practices after the early deaths of her parents, twenty-six-year-old Asperger¿s patient Ginny struggles with her domineering sister¿s decision to sell the house, troubling secrets, and the ghost of a dead ancestor. Summary BPLNote:The above summary is somewhat inaccurate: Ginny thinks about food and cooks to self-soothe. Also, she is not diagnosed in the book as having Asperger¿s and is therefore, not a ¿patient¿.A surprisingly well-told story. Kitchen Daughter begins with a twist: a main character who is able to conjure up spirits by following their recipes to the letter. These ghosts guide her through the turbulent weeks after the death of her parents as she struggles with her older sister about the disposition of the family home. Ginny is an atypical heroine but I was definitely on her side when she resisted her sister¿s well-intentioned but self-serving plans to sell the family home and have her move in with her. 8.5 out of 10 Kitchen Daughter will be a satisfying read for food enthusiasts¿Ms McHenry¿s description practically amounts to virtual cooking¿and for fans of quirky heroines with offbeat stories.
mrsjason on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I was drawn to this story because of food. I share this same feeling with the main character in the story. Food is what comforts Ginny and it's used a lot in this book. From recipes that she makes from scratch to thinking about what she's going to make to going out and buying ingredients, food is the key to making Ginny feel at peace with herself. There are lots of yummy descriptions of the dishes she makes as well as several recipes including ones that bring back loved ones from the grave. The main focal point of the story is Ginny finding out that certain recipes will bring back those who have been dead as the smell of the food draws them back to our world. While they are here, the ghostly apparitions tell Ginny revelations of secrets they have kept hidden their entire lives. It's up to her to use them in a way that can help others.The part of the book that stuck out most to me was Ginny and Amanda's relationship. It's obvious that the two of them love each other. Amanda is the younger sister but because of Ginny's personality, she feels that she has to act as the older sibling. It's easy to understand her frustration because she doesn't think that Ginny acts "normal". Her own life sounds a bit hectic and she wants to put closure on her parents' death yet she can't because she knows that Ginny needs that familiarity in her life. Some readers might not like her but I felt like I could understand what she was going through. The two sisters are different as night and day but their relationship is a close one.If there was anything that I felt to be disappointing in the book, it was the secret that was finally revealed by Ginny and Amanda's dad. From the way it had been hinted throughout the book and how their mom's ghost said not to tell Amanda, I was sure that she was the product of an illicit affair and not really Ginny's sister. Not that I was angry with the truth or felt deceived, but it was a bit of a let down after so much build up. I was really surprised at the final outcome of the book. That situation totally caught me off guard and I wasn't expecting it at all. In fact it made me quite sad as I finished the story. It's not that I need everything neat and tidy and I do realize that life doesn't always work out the way wanted. I just was hoping for something and it didn't come true.This is the first story that I have read that deals with a character who has Asperger's Syndrome characteristics. I found it very interesting to learn more about this type of personality as well as see what it is like for the person who is going through it first hand. This gave me a new insight on Ginny's character and I enjoyed reading her story. This is a wonderful debut from Jael McHenry and I look forward to reading more from her in the future.
Beamis12 on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Delightful but poignant book about a young woman with Aspergers trying to come to term with her parents death. She uses cooking as a way to calm herself when she finds situations beyond her coping skills. She find that when she cooks a handwritten recipe the writer of the recipe appears in her kitchen. In this way she finds the answers she needs to overcome problems with her sister and the way to a life on her terms.
ReviewsbyMolly on LibraryThing 10 months ago
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.
whitreidtan on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines normal as "conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern" and "of, relating to, or characterized by average intelligence or development" among other definitions. These definitions then require an outside entity to determine what the "standard" or "average" is. Therein lies the rub with the labels of both normal and abnormal. And so we try to quantify these concepts but there are so many different normals that it is confusing, and to character Ginny Selvaggio, reassuring. Opening at the funeral for Ginny's parents, the novel immediately highlights some of Ginny's quirkier coping mechanisms for dealing with crowds, being touched, making eye contact, and just generally being overwhelmed. It is pretty immediately clear that Ginny is different. She's 26 and has never been formally diagnosed with anything but she shows classic Asperger's symptoms. Having always lived at home with her parents and protected from the world, their accidental deaths have left her vulnerable to her overwhelmed, bossy younger sister's desires and unable to articulate her own needs and desires. And so she retreats to one of the few places she feels comfortable: the kitchen. Ginny loves to cook and finds peace in the kitchen amongst the ingredients and cooking techniques. In fact, Ginny discovers that when she follows a handwritten recipe exactly, she actually conjures the ghost of the original cook. Making her grandmother's ribollita after the funeral, she is so shocked when her grandmother's ghost manifests, that she only hears a part of the important message her grandmother has for her. But this fragment of a sentence and her subsequent discovery of some photographs and a cryptic letter from her father to her mother drives the narrative as Ginny searches to unravel long hidden family secrets even as she must figure out how to convince her sister not to sell the family home so important for Ginny's stability and routine. Ginny is a charming and real character. Her desire for the truth about the letter and the warning but her refusal to pigeon-hole herself with a diagnosis reveals a lot about her character, as does her reluctance to summon the ghosts of her so recently deceased parents through their recipes. Told mainly through Ginny's perspective, the reader is privy to all of her thoughts and rationales, her struggles and triumphs. The other characters in the story circle around Ginny, protective and careful, frustrated and insensitive. Although there are a few other main characters out there narrating from their place on the autism spectrum, the premise of this novel is unique and appealing. It is as individual as each person in the world and offers up another perspective on the shifting sands of normal. The recipes and Ginny's habit of cooking, either in fact or simply in her head, mean that this will appeal to my fellow readers of food-laced fiction. And while the supernatural element might drive some readers away, more will be intrigued by the idea of having just one more conversation with loved ones, especially through their signature kitchen dishes. An original and wonderful novel, this was a quick and charming read.
shelleyraec on LibraryThing 10 months ago
The Kitchen Daughter is an insightful and engaging debut by Jael McHenry. Ginny Selvaggio is a young woman whose social awkwardness and literal interpretation of the world has caused difficulties in accomplishing tasks usually associated with maturity. At 26 she still lives at home, doesn't work and relies on her parents to provide for her. Her parents, in particular in her mother, has encouraged Ginny's dependence in what has been a misguided attempt to protect Ginny from distress and judgement. When her parents die unexpectedly, Ginny comforts herself by cooking, only to conjure the spirit of her deceased grandmother who gives her a cryptic warning.Ginny Selvaggio is an unique character, beautifully written by Jael McHenry. From the outset, Ginny's thoughts and behaviour are recognisably unusual. Ginny's dislike of eye contact and her retreat to a darkened closet when she is overwhelmed by the guests at her parents wake are immediately suggestive of Asperger's for those that are aware of the syndrome. McHenry captures the moments of Ginny's emotional reactions in a way that feels authentic, from the coping methods she uses to the almost detached and analytical way she responds to the challenges she faces. McHenry also gives Ginny a distinct voice, with the short sentences and blunt communication that is characteristic of someone with Asperger's. Ginny's affinity with food, its flavor, texture and smell, as well as the comfort and sense of pride she derives from cooking it is wonderfully portrayed, and humanises her story with some enticing recipes.The appearance of the ghosts that visit Ginny is handled well, the context is not over dramatised and gives the book a touch of magic and even whimsy. It is somehow perfectly acceptable that Ginny can conjure something ordinary people can not.The supporting characters in The Kitchen Daughter are well developed, Amanda, Ginny's sister, seems unreasonable even as you acknowledge that her intentions are good. I was properly indignant over her trickery and frustrated by her attempts to steamroll her sister.Gert's role is invaluable as an unobtrusive support for Ginny, even though she makes only brief appearances. Her own personal history underscores the theme of learning from experiencing life's sorrows and joys, a vital lesson for Ginny to process.My one disappointment in the novel centers around David, not that I would have wanted a 'happy ever after' for two such complicated characters but I was saddened by the events that separate he and Ginny.The Kitchen Daughter was a pleasure to read curled up on the lounge, I was drawn to the characters and completely engaged by the story. It is a heartwarming and thought provoking novel that is as endearing as it is satisfying. A wonderful read.
fyrefly98 on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Summary: The death of Ginny Selvaggio's parents has left Ginny's world turned upside-down. Overwhelmed by the crush of people at the funeral, and suddenly left alone for the first time in her life, Ginny turns to the familiar rituals of cooking to comfort herself. However, as she makes her grandmother's recipe for ribollita off a time-worn, hand-written recipe card, her grandmother herself appears on a stool in the corner of the kitchen. Ginny's obviously startled - she's never seen a ghost before - but her grandmother only has time for a single cryptic warning before she fades away again: "Do no let her." Ginny's not sure who she's supposed to stop from doing what; maybe she's supposed not supposed to let her brusquely practical sister Amanda sell the only house Ginny's even known? Or is it connected to some secret her parents were keeping, a secret that Ginny is only beginning to uncover now that they're gone?Review: This book was sneakily, surprisingly wonderful. I love food-centered books, and books with recipes, so I was expecting to love those parts, and the book didn't let me down: the food writing is very evocative, and absolutely brings the smells and the textures and the tastes of Ginny's kitchen to life. (I've only tried one of the recipes so far - the Georgia Peach cocktail - but it is dangerously delicious.) But the whole food-summoning-ghosts thing is only a part of this novel, and maybe not even the biggest part, and the wonderfulness of all the rest was what really surprised me.Ginny is a wonderful narrator, immediately recognizable (at least to me) and intensely sympathetic. I loved the view into the ways her mind worked, her ways of coping with a suddenly unfamiliar and hostile world, the contrast between the forms taken by her grief vs. that of her sister. The strong connection I felt with Ginny made this book incredibly touching; I cried more than a little when she finally got her last reunion with - and chance to say goodbye to - her parents.But most of all, I really appreciated the fact that despite the pressure from her sister, and from the world at large, Ginny refused to give in and see herself as broken or strange. The message that there's no such thing as normal struck a strong chord with me, and I think it's one that's applicable not just to people with (or people who know people with) Asperger's, but to anyone who's ever felt isolated or misunderstood. 4.5 out of 5 stars.Recommendation: Definitely worth a read for anyone who likes food-based fiction - there's more than a touch of Like Water For Chocolate about it - but it also should appeal to folks who liked The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, or anyone who likes compelling contemporary fiction told from a unique point of view.
MRShemery on LibraryThing 10 months ago
CoverI love this cover ... of course, I'm also a foodie so that may have something to do with it. But if you look at the cover as an art piece, you see the dark strength of the bag against the rich, vibrant redness of the peppers ... all of it set in front of a non-essential disappearing background causing the peppers to really catch the reader's eye ... it is simple, elegant and beautiful.Plot/Main CharactersBrilliance. It's not often I can say that about a debut author, but this time it fits. This book was published for the first time this past April and I can already tell you that it will be a favorite on many people's reading list.We have a main character who has a disease, but doesn't want to accept her disease. She, Ginny, doesn't want to be labeled. She defines her quirkiness as having a personality. She is strong-willed, opinionated and has a strong desire to be allowed her independence.Her sister, Amanda, is a heifer ... sorry, but that's the nicest thing I'll say about her. I understood that she wanted to take care of Ginny, but she wouldn't even listen to what Ginny had to say. She didn't even consider how Ginny felt about the housing situation. She just automatically thought that because she was "normal" she knew better. Oh, how I wanted to slap this lady.Despite Amanda's overbearing personality, despite being lied to and tricked by Amanda, Ginny proves herself capable of living alone. She proves that she has what it takes to master her disease when she needs to, when it's important for her to.OverallI fell in love with this story. I love the addition of the family recipes at the beginning of several chapters. I loved that the main character had Asperger's syndrome. I loved Ginny's tenacity in dealing with her situation. I loved the unusual twist of preparing a loved one's handwritten recipe in order to bring about the ghost of the dead.If Jael McHenry continues her wonderful talent for writing in her next book, I will have a new favorite author to add to my list. The Kitchen Daughter is a wonderful addition to any family library and I recommend it to all of you.
amanderson on LibraryThing 10 months ago
This was great! It was a very enjoyable mix of family, food, and magical realism fiction, with a very appealing narrator. I'd recommend it to book clubs, people who enjoy fiction featuring cooking and food, and fans of Alice Hoffman or Sarah Addison Allen. Ginny is a very shy young woman with Aspergers, though she doesn't know it. She copes with stimulation overload by cooking or imagining cooking, with all its evocative tastes and smells and textures. Recipes are included. She is an excellent chef, though not formally schooled. She and her sister Amanda have just lost their parents in an accident. Amanda, who lives with her husband and small kids, wants to sell the house, while Ginny doesn't want any changes. Ginny finds that her cooking can draw up family members' ghosts, who seem to be warning her about something. What she learns about her family history, her personal growth, and the sisters' relationship is the crux of the novel's plot. The book comes out in April 2011; I read an advance reader's copy courtesy of Bookbrowse.
the1stdaughter on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Ginny¿s life is normal. Well, normal if you don¿t take into account that she¿s recently started seeing ghosts and that one of them happens to be her late grandmother. After the death of her parents, Ginny turns to what she knows best, the kitchen. It¿s there, through the comfort of her grandmother¿s Ribollita recipe that she appears and attempts to send her a message, ¿do not let her¿¿. Unfortunately that¿s all she hears and then her grandmother is gone, leaving her with question after question. Not only that, but a sister who is insistent on running her life. With so many questions and little experience in the outside world she turns to what she knows best and discovers something completely unexpected.Are you a fan of Cecilia Ahern, Sarah Addison Allen, or Aimee Bender? If so, you will absolutely want to read The Kitchen Daughter. Recently there seems to have been a myriad of books centered around magical realism and I for one am actually a huge fan. I don¿t generally like the overly paranormal, heavy duty fairies and werewolves type books (though there is a time and place for them), but these magical realism books are just perfect. Based enough in the real world with magic that is only slightly unbelievable, because who hasn¿t heard of someone who can honestly see ghosts? Does that mean it actually happens? Who¿s to say? But in these few select author¿s writings they¿ve mastered the art of bending reality and adding a glimmer to a normally ordinary setting; Jael McHenry is no exception.As for The Kitchen Daughter itself, I loved every bit of it. There were so many surprises, including Ginny¿s character itself. I¿ve not read many books that involve characters with Asperger¿s or related tendencies, but the first that springs to mind is Jodi Picoult¿s recent House Rules in which the main character is a young teenage boy that has been diagnosed with Asperger¿s. What I enjoyed about Ginny¿s character over that character was a difference in maturity, because at 26 she¿s had quite a bit of time to become ¿comfortable¿ in her own skin but had still developed some traits that had been engrained into her subconscious. Being that the story was told from her point of view, it was interesting to see how she handled awkward situations and that most often it was with food. Her coping mechanism, outside of hiding in a closet, was to think of ingredients and slowly work herself through recipes in her mind. It was such a nice touch and reminded me a bit of Sarah Addison Allen¿s writing.Not only was Ginny¿s character intriguing regarding how she handled difficult situations due to having Asperger¿s, but how she viewed herself compared to those around her. In her eyes she was normal and nothing more than a ¿personality.¿ I definitely spent some time, and still am, considering what exactly is normal? Why is it that as a society, instead of helping others with encouragement and understanding we choose to label them perhaps even giving them a ¿solution¿ in the form of a pill? That¿s not to say every situation is like this and that there aren¿t some that truly need medical help, but have we gotten too lax? Is it easier to label than to put the effort in and help? Though she wasn¿t present through much of the book, I¿d definitely say I admired Ginny¿s mom. To think of all she struggled with, not only with helping Ginny, but with the teachers & parents that associated with Ginny and their opinions about her. It¿s incredibly difficult. As a parent with a son who has a form of Autism I can completely relate and can honestly say I¿m grateful for the insight Jael McHenry has shed on this topic, even if it is through fiction.As for the other characters, I¿d have to say that Ginny¿s sister Amanda in particular was not my favorite person. This may be because I was looking through Ginny¿s eyes for much of the book and it wasn¿t until the end that you are able to see Amanda¿s side of the story. It¿s difficult, life is difficult and joyous at the same time
ElizaJane on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Reason for Reading: The main character has Asperger's, as do I, and I make it a habit of reading books that portray Aspies.First, I'd like to mention that this is as far from my regular type of reading as it gets. I don't *do* women's fiction; no matter what the topic I stay very, very far away from it. But when I was introduced to this book I saw the protagonist was Asperger's and I didn't really pay attention to anything else. I just wanted to read it.I loved this book with a passion. I read it in an evening, staying up to 3:30 am in the morning to finish it; I just couldn't put it down. Ginny Selvaggio was my kindred spirit. The first chapter really introduces her to the reader focusing a lot on her quirks, foibles and what goes on in her mind. I found a lot of myself there in that first chapter, that I knew I was going along for the ride with her. Ginny has Asperger's but has never been officially diagnosed, she doesn't even know herself, which I found odd throughout most of the story seeing as her father was a doctor, well a surgeon technically, but this works itself out by the end. She has unfortunately been overprotected by her parents, her mother virtually taking care of her, leaving the house with her but at the same that same mother does manage to have a wealth of coping strategies for Ginny, insisting she go to school and also insisting she learn the niceties of social discourse. Ginny is now in her early 30s and living at home with her parents, really incapable of dealing with the day-to-day of the outside world as she's never been given a chance.Then tragedy strikes (this is all in the first chapter, btw) and her parents are killed in a tragic accident leaving Ginny to her own defences. Except her younger sister Amanda completely takes over her mother's role and starts to arrange a new life for Ginny where she, Amanda, will now look after her. But Ginny eventually finds her voice and stands up for herself, she finds a friend, she starts venturing forth into the world. All this causes extreme stress upon her, but she has coping methods and one of them is food, not eating but cooking. Other reviewers will write about the food element of this book which has a major role, but I am not a cook nor do I like foreign, fancy foods, in fact the only recipe that interested my was the hard boiled egg (LOL). So I'll leave that to other reviewers. But thinking about food and cooking are calming forces on Ginny. This is when she realizes that she can bring back ghosts of people. If she follows a recipe of someone dead in their own handwriting they will appear in her kitchen for a short time and Ginny starts talking to these ghosts to unravel a deeply hidden family secret.I found the story utterly charming! The ghost part was fun, this magical realism added another layer to the story and as a fan of magical realism it probably added to my enjoyment of a "women's fiction" book. The story of how Ginny tentatively makes a friend was interesting to watch and the fact that it was a member of the opposite sex is telling as well. I, myself, do not relate to women very well and find it much easier to talk to men than women. The story of two sisters, is wonderful, and realistic. Both are trying to please, worried about each other, offended by the other's behaviour and have a major falling out in this time of stressful need when they should be supporting each other.But most importantly, to me, is the portrayal of Asperger's syndrome in a female. I think Ms. McHenry has done a fine job, especially considering she has no personal experience and received all her information through research from some renowned writers on the topic and through the Asperger's network online. I found Ginny entirely believable and a fine voice for the community of aspies in the real world. Personally I found many similarities between Ginny and myself: the use of the closet as a place to get away from it all, the many obsessions, not being able to look people in th
Anonymous 12 months ago
The main character is an adult autistic ( Asperger's?) Woman who's parents have just died. As a person whose life is in demand of repetition and structure this comes as a really big blow. However, she likes to cook and finds that even remembering how a recipe is written gives her much needed comfort. When she discovers that when she makes recipes that are handwritten from someone who passed away, there is more than just great cookies baking in the oven ( to coin a phrase). I'd recommend this whole heartedly.
Anonymous More than 1 year 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.
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An easy read. An interesting story... Definitely worth reading.
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