Saturday, 10 September 2011

The Kitchen Daughter

Author: Jael McHenry
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 272
First Published: April 2011
First Line: "Bad things come in threes."

Synopsis: Ginny is a 26 year old young woman who has Asperger's Syndrome. Throughout her childhood and even into adulthood Ginny has been sheltered by her well-meaning parents who wanted to give Ginny a life free from negative labels. Although she is timid in the outside world it is in the kitchen where Ginny truly feels at home. Not only is she comfortable cooking but she excels at it. It's her love of food and cooking and it's sights and smells that Ginny uses to calm herself in times of stress whether it's imagining the carmelization of onions or the smell of chocolate.

When her parents are suddenly killed Ginny's world is thrown upside-down. Her life is made even more stressful by her sister Amanda's insistence on selling the family home, the only home Ginny has even known. With all of the chaos in her life Ginny looks to her love of cooking to provide comfort and stability in her life.

While making her Nonna's soup, Ginny unexpectedly summons the ghost of her long-deceased grandmother. Given the chance to speak to her grandmother is an unexpected joy for Ginny but when Nonna gives Ginny the cryptic message, "Do no let her." Ginny is intrigued and is intent on figuring out what Nonna meant. As Ginny tries to figure out Nonna's message she unearths other family secrets long hidden.

My Thoughts: I came across this book via another book blogger, The Book Maven, on Twitter. From the synopsis on the back cover and the beautiful picture on the cover (I'm a sucker for a great cover) I decided to pick it up. I was also intrigued of the author combining a magical element with Asperger's.

"The Kitchen Daughter" is a very easy read. This is not one of those fast-paced books where the storyline and plot development takes centre stage. The story is more about the characters, their relationships and general family dynamics . The fact that it dealt with food didn't deter me either! I love how cooking and family 'tried and true' recipes are used not just for sustenance but for bonding between the generations. That is so awesome!

This book has a twinge of magic in it which I, of course, enjoyed. I'm not talking about wizards and werewolves and other paranormal fare. It's more of a quirkier, subtle magic. This book has the same magical feel as Sarah Addison Allen's "Garden Spells". I think it creates a lighter feel to a rather serious book.

Going into this book I honestly have to say that I only had a very basic understanding of Asperger's which is only due to the fact that I know two children that are affected by this syndrome. Reading more and more about Ginny's symptoms made me better understand the symptoms that I've seen firsthand (which, admittedly, I didn't realize were symptoms until reading this book). Educating myself about Asperger's is what I loved most about this book. It's an eye-opening, real account of what it's like to live with Asperger's. For days after I finished reading this book I kept thinking about Ginny, her symptoms and how she viewed and made her own way in a world that is so focused on being normal.

Don't get me wrong! While this book does focus on a young woman with Asperger's it doesn't focus solely on the syndrome. Asperger's is used more like a lens that the reader can view the world through so we can see the world through Ginny's eyes. The reader can see just how different a person with Asperger's views the world ... and is viewed by the outside world and their own family which I found fascinating. It's a story that focuses more on the negative effects of labelling, what it means to be 'normal'. A lesson we can all use, I fear.

Ginny is a great main character. She's blunt, determined and outspoken. She's endearing and you find yourself rooting for her to stand up and make it on her own even though she has family who talk down to her and unfortunately don't expect much from her.

Amanda, Ginny's sister, was a hard character to like. As a sister myself I can appreciate her fear for her sister's well-being (even if her actions weren't the best) as well as her fear for her own children. My favourite character in the book has to be Gert. While she doesn't say much in the book she was the kind, quiet fairy godmother-type character who was waiting in the wings to help Ginny and bring her through this turbulent time.

If you're a reader and cook like moi you'll appreciate the vivid descriptions of food and cooking. You'll be itching to try the recipes!! Yes, there are recipes included at the beginning of the chapters! Personally, I have my eye on making the Ribollita (bread soup).

This was a good read and one that will, no doubt, stay with me for a long time. It's a story that is less about Asperger's than it was about family dynamics, acceptance, determination, stubbornness and how labelling ourselves and others can truly limit the lives we lead. This book has given me a greater appreciation of the complexity of Asperger's Syndrome and the struggle these people have to just be viewed as 'normal'.

My Rating: 4/5 stars


Christina @ This Woman Cooks! said...

This sounds so interesting Laurie. I'm glad you shared this, I really want to read it now!

Dzoli said...

Yes I would be interested to read it too as I know a girl with Asperge..beautiful soul

Laurie@The Baking Bookworm said...

Christina & Dzoli,
It was an interesting look into what it's like to live with Asperger's.

I even got a tweet from the author! Very cool. :)

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