Title: The Kitchen Daughter
Author: Jael McHenry
Release Date: April 12, 2011
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Ginny Selvaggio is 26 years old and still living with her parents. Her “personality”, as she calls it, makes her unsuited to live alone – she can’t handle people touching her, she refuses to make eye contact with people, and the way she handles circumstances she doesn’t like is thinking about food and cooking because it calms her. When her parents are killed, Ginny and her sister Amanda must come to terms with what their deaths mean, and face the truth about Ginny’s condition.
The Kitchen Daughter is a well-written debut that deals with a variety of aspects of life. From the beginning of the book, it’s clear that Ginny has Asperger’s. She’s a high functioning autistic that can deal with other people, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy for her. I absolutely loved the voice that McHenry created for Ginny. While I can’t say I understand Asperger’s after reading this because that would be incredibly presumptuous, McHenry has given me an idea of what the condition means for the person suffering from it. I absolutely loved this insight, and think the book is worth reading just to understand Ginny.
However, Ginny refuses to see a doctor and to be labeled with something like Asperger’s, which is frustrating for both the reader and her sister, Amanda. It’s completely understandable though – Ginny is obsessed with the idea of normal, and is adamant that there is no such thing. She doesn’t want to have a doctor tell her that she is outside the bounds of normality. While Ginny believes she is fully capable of taking care of herself, as the novel progresses, she begins to realize how much she has been shielded from over the course of her life. At the same time, it becomes clear what a disservice her parents did her by not acknowledging her condition from a young age and trying to get help for her.
Amanda was a little more difficult for me to accept. While I did appreciate that she wanted her sister to move in with her, rather than casting her out on her own, she becomes more intransigent as the novel progresses. In novels like this, readers have to take into account the fact that the characters have lived a lifetime before the books starts that we don’t get the privilege of reading about. I realize that Amanda has had her entire life to become frustrated with Ginny, that there are years of resentment behind her actions. At the same time, though, I couldn’t help but feeling like she was a bit of a bully – taking advantage of Ginny because she knew she didn’t have the tools to fight back. I felt as though Amanda was fighting against Ginny, rather than working with her.
The other major storyline of The Kitchen Daughter is food. When Ginny is trying not to panic, she thinks of food – the texture, the process of cooking it, the taste. It makes for absolutely mouthwatering descriptions that I really enjoyed. There is another plotline that goes along with the food, that of ghosts that appear when Ginny cooks something from a recipe handwritten by the dead person. I have to admit, this storyline did not work for me at all. I thought it was really jarring and didn’t fit in with the overall novel. The ghosts detracted from an otherwise wonderful, insightful, and introspective book.
The Kitchen Daughter was a promising debut, and I will definitely be keeping an eye on Jael McHenry. I absolutely loved getting to know Ginny. I also found that being thrust into the mind of someone with Asperger’s, rather than being told about it, was very informative and eye opening. Though there was a subplot that didn’t work for me, I can’t let that take away from my enthusiasm for this book. It was well-written, engaging, and I highly recommend this book to foodies, fans of women’s fiction, and those curious about Asperger’s.