They say “normal is just a setting on a dryer” (with the exception of my dryer, I guess.) However, more to the point: what is normal, exactly? In The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry this question is explored.
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.
Honestly, I was very disappointed in this book. It received rave reviews on Goodreads, so maybe I set my expectations too high.
The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry is about a young woman, Ginny, who is living with (undiagnosed) Asperger’s Syndrome. The book is written from her point of view, so you spend a lot of time in her head. Her parents pass away unexpectedly and as a result you read much about how she copes with this. Her sister, Amanda, wants to sell the house Ginny has lived in all her life and tries to make Ginny be more “normal,” or at least realize how abnormal she is. I did not like Amanda at all. Her characterization was very one-dimensional.
Cooking is Ginny’s passion and coping mechanism. She suddenly has the ability to conjure up ghosts by preparing the deceased person’s recipes. I was very intrigued by this but wound up being disappointed when it had little to do with the storyline, with the exception of perhaps her parents. As far as the “secrets” went, there aren’t really any, at least in my opinion. One could skip over much of this portion book without losing the story.
I did find myself relating to Ginny having to find a new “normal” since I deal with social anxiety and chronic illnesses. I liked Ginny’s view that everyone has their own “normal,” and to not label mental health issues as abnormal, but instead a different variant of normal. Because really, what IS normal?
Sadly, the plot really fell flat. I was not motivated to keep reading to see what would happen and it took me longer to finish because I had to force myself to read it. If you are looking to learn what it’s like to be inside the head of someone with Asperger’s, you may enjoy this book. But if you want a more exciting plot, skip this.
2 out of 5 Stars
The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry
Gallery Books (2011)
Paperback: 304 pages
Special thanks to Gallery Books for my review copy!