Once you have a taste of Jael McHenry’s The Kitchen Daughter, you won’t be able to stop until you’ve finished. McHenry’s narrator is twenty-six-year-old Ginny Selvaggio, an unforgettable voice. Ginny is both a masterful chef and a shy young woman with Asperger’s syndrome. When her parents die suddenly, she has no way to cope with the grief — or the offers of consolation. Her sister Amanda tries to help by taking control, but with plans to sell the only house Ginny has ever known, Amanda is less helpful than harmful.
Ginny turns to the kitchen for comfort, for solace. She loses herself in the preparation of food. In the process, she discovers that she can summon the ghosts of people by cooking their recipes. A hidden letter, boxes of old school papers, and a new friend with his own deep sorrow all add to the mix of histories and heartaches that Ginny must unravel in order to find peace for herself and her remaining family.
McHenry’s deft hand with plot development kept me turning the pages, but the biggest delight of The Kitchen Daughter is the richness and depth of Ginny’s voice. McHenry’s metaphors for this character are so honed and precise that you end up with a three-dimensional figure in the room — a summoned ghost.
Describing her well-meaning but overbearing sister, Ginny says that Amanda “has a voice like orange juice, sweet but sharp.” Of her mother, Ginny says, her “laugh sounded exactly like spearmint bubble gum”. In a moment of panic, she describes herself as “a drop of water on a griddle”. McHenry’s figurative language brilliantly portrays a woman who has filtered the world through her love of cooking. We discover a voice, a character, who is truly unique, startlingly memorable. Ginny is the book, and she is marvelous. In the end, The Kitchen Daughter stays with you, like an excellent meal prepared by a good and gracious friend.