Despite the fact that I really enjoyed our vacation, there was one small thing that I have felt sorry I missed back here at home. Jael McHenry, a native of Janesville, Iowa, the school district I used to teach in, and where I still work at the public library on weekends, was back on June 18 to speak at two of the bigger public libraries, promoting her book The Kitchen Daughter. There have been different authors - local talent- that I have seen over the years, but I was especially interested in hearing McHenry. It is not every day that a debut author from your own backyard has her book promoted in Oprah's O Magazine. In fact, everywhere I see The Kitchen Daughter, it is receiving high praise.
To make myself feel slightly less like I was missing out I brought my copy of The Kitchen Daughter with me on vacation so even though I couldn't meet McHenry, I could at least read her novel.
McHenry's main character, Ginny, is an excellent cook and can feel different textures and tastes in foods. The descriptions of these foods is so vivid and accurate that I felt as though I were tasting these foods myself. In addition to her cooking ability, Ginny has a form of autism, Aspergers Syndrome. At least that is what Ginny's sister, Amanda, thinks. Ginny has never been diagnosed as having a problem, but she still lives with her parents, rarely goes out, and has several social fears including looking people in the eye and being touched by people she does not know. When their parents die unexpectedly, Ginny and Amanda must face their loss, but must also confront Ginny's issues as they debate what Ginny is capable of without the daily care her parents gave her. While Ginny has searched for years to determine if she is "normal" she has great difficulty deciding whether she should seek professional help and receive a diagnosis. Instead Ginny looks within herself and begins cooking in the evenings- favorite recipes from different relatives and in her parents' past. These recipes help her understand more about herself and present a bit of magical realism in this novel, bringing back the ghost of the original cook of the recipe. Ginny has always had a good relationship with the family's cleaning lady, Gert, and when she is introduced to Gert's son, David, the two strike up a friendship - something that doesn't come easy to Ginny. David is going through his own struggles as he tries to come to terms with his wife's death.
McHenry's conclusion is one I appreciated a great deal as a a reader - and one that diverged from what I thought I could see coming. This is a novel that sucked me right in, that made me think about writing myself because there is an ease about the way McHenry writes that captured her story perfectly and grabbed me from the beginning.
I still regret not getting to hear McHenry speak in person. After talking to a friend who went to hear her, I am happy to report that McHenry is at work on a second novel. I passed this one on to my mom already and will be recommending it to friends as well. Oprah is right on in giving The Kitchen Daughter some attention!