The characters are so real; the dialogue is so believable— juxtaposed alongside a plot line that includes ghosts and things that are typically not real, not believable. Ginny’s relationships are few, but powerful. Anyone with a sibling can relate to the conversations that she has with her sister.
At 26, Ginny is both wise beyond her years and incredibly naïve—a product of her “problem” and her protective mother. A mother who, along with Ginny’s father, just passed away suddenly. At first, Ginny deals with their death the way she deals with everything—distraction (cooking) and avoidance (“recharging her batteries”). But when cooking from a hand-written recipe brings Ginny’s grandmother (Nonna, who has long since passed away), and that visit brings a cryptic warning, Ginny begins to realize what she has to do…
As she’s packing her parents’ things, as her insistent (yet clueless) sister demanded, she begins to find clues to her family’s past. Clues that she can’t leave alone. She knows that in order to find out how letters and photos and her grandmother’s warning piece together, she has no other choice but to cook the recipes of dead family members, hoping that the scent of their own dishes draws them back to her. A girl who rarely accepts—let alone invites—attention, now must open her kitchen to the ghosts of people who have played a part in her family’s past.
The mystery is played out in a way that is compelling, without being anxiety-inducing suspenseful. Never did I question the reality of the ghosts. Never did it seem that Ginny was making this up. In fact, it seemed like a perfectly-possible way to figure out the mystery! (I wholeheartedly disagree with some opinions that the “supernatural” aspects of the novel undermine the story.)
The story is told by Ginny; as the reader I felt Ginny’s emotions and understood her (sometimes irrational) thoughts, having heard them directly from her. The explanation of the intricacies of Ginny’s “personality” (suspected to be Asperger’s syndrome), is given in such a respectful way; it is integral to the story, not included as an add-on. It adds a deep, wonderful twist to the already-complex story. It contributes to each relationship, conversation, and decision.
Food is such a large part of this story but, unlike other books I have read, it is done in a way that is complementary, not distracting, to the plot. Sometimes the recipe does not seem to match up with the person it evokes (beware the brownies), but it is clear that each was well thought out, and not added gratuitously.
Many people find comfort in food. Afterall, there is an entire food group nicknamed “comfort foods”! But rarely does someone use food the way that Ginny does—literally calming her frantic mind, keeping her from getting angry, distracting her from sadness. Just the thought of food works; it does not even need to be physically prepared.
Aside from contributing greatly to the story, the book contains amazing descriptions of ingredients and the cooking process. McHenry is either an expert chef or an amazing researcher! Her understanding of food is astounding; her descriptions are truly beautiful.
Without giving in to food analogies too much, I will say that this book is delicious and intoxicating. “Foodies” will devour every word, but the love and appreciation of the story is not predicated on a knowledge or affection of food or cooking or recipes, everyone will enjoy it.
If the previous 600 words haven’t made it apparent, I loved The Kitchen Daughter. Although I should know better by now, I often judge a book by its cover. This beautiful cover is what initially drew me to the book. I admit that my first impression/assumption of what the book was about was very wrong. But the book is FABULOUS nonetheless.