Book Review: The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry
Book: The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry
Genre: fiction, magical realism
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: 2011
Summary: The title character in The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry is Ginny, a woman who would probably be placed on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum, if her parents hadn’t carefully orchestrated her life away from that sort of diagnosis and labeling. But, now, her parents have died. Her sister isn’t convinced that Ginny can take care of herself and Ginny isn’t so sure herself, especially when her cooking begins to conjure ghosts.
Thoughts: I read The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry for BookClubSandwich. In the introductory post, Andi of Estella’s Revenge confesses that she didn’t finish the book. Which turns out to be a really terrific way to start a book discussion, because it invites me to figure out why I found the book so compelling.
A lot of the push-me pull-me force of this book, I think, is the narrator’s voice. Andi described it this way:
Her nervousness and social anxiety just made me feel nervous and anxious and drew the book out to a point that was almost painful for me to read.
I experienced that as well. I suspect going through it quickly helped my reading experience because Ginny has the sort of brain that is intriguing to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there. In fact, I got mesmerized by this narrator’s voice and had difficulty putting it down. I’ve had that experience with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon and Kissing Doorknobs by Terry Spencer Hesser. But I liked The Kitchen Daughter better because it’s an adult narrator with an adult life to figure out how to handle using a brain that functions differently than other people’s. In that sense, it reminded me of Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale, about a man who suffers from a stroke in the prime of life and it takes a quiet Quaker nurse to hear what he can no longer say.
Some of the things I really enjoyed from Ginny’s narrative voice:
- the way she describes people’s voices in terms of tastes
- how she uses thoughts of the processes of cooking to calm herself
- her knowledge of what other words are on the same page of the dictionary as the one that currently interests her
Only about a third of the way through the book, I wrote this note to myself:
I think the autism spectrum could logically be expanded to include all of us and wonder how that would affect the way we function in the world and how we treat people on the furthest edges of the spectrum.
In the end, that became an even more pronounced theme of the book. Rather than being my unique and earth-shattering revelation, it was the one that the author was gently leading us to all along.
Appeal: Given Andi’s experience, I suggest reading this book at a time when you can relax and sink into it. This is a bathtub book, not a carry around in your purse to read at odd moments book. Fiction foodies will find lots to like from the ways cooking and food permeate the experience of reading this book. This will also appeal to readers of magical realism, with a few appearances of ghosts who play important roles in the development of the story and Ginny’s character.
Mostly off topic (although there is a community garden in The Kitchen Daughter), I thought my Weekend Cooking pals would appreciate a photo of the first tomato from my garden this summer. It’s an heirloom called Cour di Bue (seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds). The taste is intensely tomato. Delicious for eating raw or in salads.
Visit Andi’s post at Estella’s Revenge for comments and a Mr. Linky list with other reviews, BookClubSandwich: The Kitchen Daughter. Also, keep an eye out for Kim’s wrap-up post at Sophisticated Dorkiness.
The Beth Fish Reads blog has more Weekend Cooking posts, starting with a peek at cookbook bookshelves: Weekend Cooking: A Look at My Cookbook Shelves 2.
where is the knife..I think we need to eat that tomato right now. A little sprinkle of salt..some iced tea…and we have lunch!
Btw, I loved The Kitchen Daughter. I know some reviews had issues with the ghosts, but while I would not consider myself a fan of magical realism, I though it added a unique twist to the book that you can interpret in several different ways.
I really want to read this book. Since both me and my BF are on the spectrum, this would be a very interesting read for me.
Oh I’d love a taste of that midwestern heirloom. I’d even go for just a sniff. Ours are about a month away here in northern California. I’ve sworn off any tomato that doesn’t come from ours or a local garden, so I’m salivating at your picture. Enjoy it for me, please.
I won a copy of The Kitchen Daughter and it just came this week. I’m glad you got so much from it. I’ve bookmarked your review so I can come back again before I read. I’m going to save it for a less hectic time so I can read it without rushing through it.
Sounds interesting, but I don’t think this would be a book I would enjoy.
Your tomato looks very impressive! Pretty big!!!
Wow look at that tomato!
Thanks for visiting my blog on this book! I am kinda picky about magical realism books, but I did quite enjoy this one. I liked that it wasn’t quite as predictable I was feared it would be.
Here’s my review for others who may b intersected: http://mentalfoodie.blogspot.com/2011/07/book-review-kitchen-daughter-by-jael.html
I loved the Curious Incident and somehow this story reminded me of it. I would love to read this one although not a fan of magical realism, it does seem like a book I’d enjoy. That tomato looks luscious, all it needs is to be sliced. What a beauty!
The book sounds interesting, and the tomato looks delicious. Our tomatoes are about golf-ball size and still green, so we’ve got a ways to go. Enjoy! Thanks for the great review. I’ll keep my eyes open for this book at my library.
Your tomato looks wonderful. I have had a couple from my garden but they have been not the best. We’ve had too many weather extremes I think.
I have had this book on my wish list and am going to check for it at the library. So many people have really enjoyed it.
I really think this sounds wonderful. I believe there are great gifts to be had in this autism spectrum. And I do believe most of us have it to a degree. This book sounds fascinating to me.
So gald to see that you enjoyed this one too. With respect to the voicing of Ginny, this book brought to mind Jodi Picoult’s House Rules, another one where the character with Asperger’s is so authentically portrayed.
Those tomatoes look fabulous 🙂 I just had a very mushy one at lunch today, ugh..wish I had a bite of one of these.
I love how much good attention this book is getting this weekend.
Ohhhhh and love your tomato — nothing better than a warm hierloom straight from the garden.
I really want to read this one… this is the third time I have seen it today! Torture! LOL
I loved The Kitchen Daughter too. I found Ginny’s voice very compelling.
Oh, I’m totally envious of that heirloom tomato! We planted 5 varieties this year, and the chipmunks are getting most of them 🙁
I enjoyed THE KITCHEN DAUGHTER, lots to think about, as you say with “This is a bathtub book, not a carry around in your purse to read at odd moments book.” What a fun way to differentiate types of reading … I knew exactly what you meant!
Lovely tomato — and it sounds like a very interesting book!
I agree with you about Ginny’s voice — a nice place to visit, but a place you’re glad not to be stuck in too much. I think that’s part of why I enjoyed the book, the voice and narrative were so different from other books similar to this one.
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It’s interesting that you say we could all be on the autism spectrum depending on how wide we make that spectrum. You aren’t the first one to bring this up, and it’s so interesting to me when I read books or watch tv or see people who I *know* must be on the spectrum – interesting to me when the authors I don’t think intentionally did so… makes me wonder if they’re somewhere on the spectrum, too.