Release Date: April 12, 2011
More Info: Amazon
After the unexpected death of her parents, painfully shy and sheltered 26-year-old Ginny Selvaggio seeks comfort in cooking from family recipes. But the rich, peppery scent of her Nonna’s soup draws an unexpected visitor into the kitchen: the ghost of Nonna herself, dead for twenty years, who appears with a cryptic warning (“do no let her…”) before vanishing like steam from a cooling dish.
A haunted kitchen isn’t Ginny’s only challenge. Her domineering sister, Amanda, (aka “Demanda”) insists on selling their parents’ house, the only home Ginny has ever known. As she packs up her parents’ belongings, Ginny finds evidence of family secrets she isn’t sure how to unravel. She knows how to turn milk into cheese and cream into butter, but she doesn’t know why her mother hid a letter in the bedroom chimney, or the identity of the woman in her father’s photographs. The more she learns, the more she realizes the keys to these riddles lie with the dead, and there’s only one way to get answers: cook from dead people’s recipes, raise their ghosts, and ask them.
After her parents' sudden death, Ginny is on her own for the first time in her life. She's always been quirky and different, to the frustration of her quite dominating sister, Amanda. Ginny, though she doesn't know it when the story begins, has Aspergers, a chronic cognitive condition of the autism spectrum. Amanda insists on selling their parents house, where Ginny has always lived, and having Ginny move in with her, even though Ginny prefers staying in the only home that she's ever known. Amanda doesn't believe that Ginny can function on her own and often treats her as lesser and imcompetent. She doesn't ask Ginny when making decisiosn about her life, nor does she listen when Ginny talks, but just assumes that Ginny will do what she wants. Frustrated with the fact that Amanda won't listen to her, Ginny cooks, almost obsessively. During one cooking binge, she receives a ghostly visitation from her late grandmother, whom she called Nonna. Nonna imparts a vague message and dissappears.
Struggling with her new life and full of questions after Nonna's mysterious visit, Ginny continues cooking, using recipes from her mother and father, which allow her to speak with their ghosts. As she cooks, and summons ghosts, she also begins making changes in her life, making connections as best she's able, and learning more about herself and her family in the process. She and her sister even develop a better understanding of each other and make some progress in healing the hurts they've inflicted on each other.
McHenry did an excellent job of capturing the essence of Asperger's Syndrome, including the reality that it's a spectrum and it manifests differently in peoples in (that's also one of the challenges in diagnosing it). Ginny knows she's different, and has developed coping mechanisms, some more successful than others. Since the story was told from her point of view, we spend time in her head and get to see how the world looks to someone who's not "normal". It was an eye opener at times. In her eyes, she was normal, her quirks are just part of her personality. She didn't think that she needed fixing and it makes you think about our view of people who are different, in any fashion. What is normal? What is different? Who decides? Does it truly matter? Is it easier to label someone than to put the effort in and help them function to the best of their ability? What do we lose by insisting that people conform to a societal norm? Do we gain anything by doing that? As a preschool teacher who has taught children with autism and with Asperger's, as well as dealing with parents on the autism spectrum, it's something that I think about often. More and more people have autism and it's a challenge, both cognitively and socially. It can be disabling but doesn't have to be. Ginny had difficulty functioning at times; not all of her coping mechanisms were successful, but she didn't think of herself as "different" or defective, she was simply Ginny.
I have recently read a slew of books about people who are different, including several with autistic characters, and this was by far the best. McHenry writes respectfully of what it's like to be autistic while spinning a tale that captures you and holds you until the end. It's a book that, I believe, you will find something new to ponder everytime you read it. "The Kitchen Daughter" is a fascinating and engaging story and one that I expect will stay with me for a long time.
This hardcover was received from the publisher for review.