In Jael McHenry's debut novel, The Kitchen Daughter, 26-year-old Ginny grapples with the sudden deaths of her parents through an age-old coping mechanism with a surprising twist. Throughout the heroine's life, she has relied upon food imagery and her culinary skills to control those situations that are difficult for one with Asperberger's Syndrome to handle. After her parents' passing, when she is truly on her own for the first time, Ginny discovers her culinary gift consists of more than just serving up scrumptious dishes.
By cooking from hand-written recipe cards, Ginny is able to conjure the spirit of the person who wrote the recipe. She uses this talent to learn secrets about those she's lost, as well as more about herself. She longs to feel "normal," but first must come to terms with what that word means, especially in her family.
The novel is a delicious tale of embracing one's past and accepting an uncertain future. Textures, tastes, and smells, as well as the spirits' vibrant personalities, emanate from Ginny's kitchen. Reading the exquisite imagery of Ginny cooking butternut squash soup, Aji de Gallina, and Ribollita is the closest thing I've done to real cooking in months... McHenry's gift for prose and description make this book a worth-while feast.
In past blog entries, I have questioned my own new sense of normal. For anyone who must cope with a changed reality, this is a comforting, warm book. Though I do have to caution: just as it's wise not to go to the grocery store on an empty stomach, it's dangerous to read this book while hungry. I advise having a full plate of Midnight Cry Brownies on hand before you begin reading.
McHenry also blogs about food at The Simmer Blog.