The Kitchen Daughter, Jael McHenry

[amazon_image id=”1439191697″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]The Kitchen Daughter[/amazon_image]Ginny Selvaggio is different. She doesn’t like to be touched. She doesn’t look in people’s eyes when they speak to her. She finds socializing excruciating. But she’s also a wonderful cook and finds solace in the kitchen. At twenty-six, she’s never been on her own, but her parents die in a car accident while on vacation, and Ginny has trouble coping. Her sister Amanda wants to sell their parents’ house and have Ginny “evaluated” for Asperger’s Syndrome. Ginny is afraid it’s a tactic to prove that she’s incompetent so that Amanda can sell the house. Meanwhile, Ginny befriends David, the son of her cleaning lady Gert. He’s a wounded soul, mourning the death of his wife a year earlier.

I really liked Ginny. I related to this book on a more personal level than some readers might because I have two children on the autism spectrum. No two people with autism are exactly alike, and it precisely the way that autism is often portrayed in the media—not wanting to be touched, for one thing—that made it hard for me to believe my son was autistic. He loves hugs, and he has never minded being touched. However, Ginny’s character comes across as genuine. The obsessions with odd things from Turkish rug patterns to letters written by nuns is familiar. When my children have an interest, it’s like an obsession, and they can stay fixated on it for months, especially my son (right now it’s Angry Birds, but it has been fruit and movie logos). I don’t know what my children will be like when they are grown up. I don’t think about it a lot. It’s too cloudy, for one thing. I just don’t know what they will be like or be able to do. I just can’t picture it. This book gave me a glimpse of what they might be like, however.

Another aspect of the [amazon_link id=”1439191697″ target=”_blank” ]The Kitchen Daughter[/amazon_link] I really loved was all the food, cooking, and recipes. Each chapter is focused around a different dish that Ginny cooks. She discovers that she is able to call forth the ghosts of the people who created the recipes when she cooks, and she is able to learn some important things about her family and herself. I even tried making the Midnight Cry Brownies recipe, and it was delicious. The brownies are a sort of cakey brownie, and they call for course salt, which settles to the bottom as the brownies bake. The resulting taste might not appeal to everyone, but I loved the mix of chocolate and salt. David’s ancho chili hot chocolate sounds pretty good, too. I can’t wait to try that.

I did truly enjoy this novel. I read it in three or four gulps. It has something to say to everyone about what normal truly is, what grief can do, and the importance of living for those left behind after loved ones die. It’s a really impressive debut. I can’t wait to read more from Jael McHenry.

Rating: ★★★★★