Monday, June 20, 2011

The Kitchen Daughter

This blog is turning into a veritable book club, isn't it? I do tend to blog in spurts of like topics frequently enough. You may not notice, but I do. And, since I try to bring you the highest quality blog-someness that can be found anywhere, I take this quite seriously. But you know what? Sometimes we have three pasta dishes all in the same week. And so it goes with my blog. Just think of this like fettucine alfredo--always impossible to resist, right?

Here's the low-down. I devoured The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry in 2 days. Yeah, I'm on summer vacation so I "have time" to read more, but it's not like I don't have other things to do yesterday and today. This one hooked me really quickly and it was hard to set it aside last night and was effortless to finish today. I mean, I loved it (as far as pop fiction goes)! Why???

1. The protagonist is autistic, specifically has (undiagnosed) Asperger's syndrome. This creates a unique narrative perspective that forces the reader to challenge her own expectations. In other words, you don't expect it, and because you figure it eventually because of subtle clues, it wonderfully emphasizes the primary theme--What is "normal"? And frankly, the autism spectrum is affecting more families and individuals in our society, and it's a fabulous reminder that we as a society are oh so quick to judge, label, and categorize anyone who doesn't act as we do (i.e. a supposed "normal").
2. On a personal note, my nephew has been categorized as having Asperger's, and I greatly appreciate an author, albeit a fiction writer, affording an often silenced voice a chance to "tell" her side, to demonstrate her emotions and thought processes, fears and strengths.
3. The protagonist is brilliant in the kitchen, and there's some beautifully descriptive food passages as told through her perspective.
4. It has something of a corny premise (there are ghosts in this novel), but it's really written in such a way that it's not cheesy at all. It works! Probably because we, the reader, have the same inner battle between incredulity and hopefulness about the protagonist, and we ultimately choose the same mindset as David, a key character. We believe because there's something about the girl, Ginny, that just begs us to be the one to listen and understand her if for no other reason than no one else does or will.
5. It has an unexpected ending. And I like that.
6. It's not a romance. If it were, the author would be selling out. But she doesn't. You think that she might, but the book stays true to it's deeper message.
7. The cover is kind of fun. Okay, pretty brilliant actually. You could write a paper on it--how the main character is represented by the mesh grocery bag, transparent but strong, full of holes and flaws, but also perfect for the purpose that she was created... Yep.
8. It's kind of a sad book. But really, it's more of a book about empathy than sympathy.

My only negative comment is that the author, like so many pop fiction writers today it seems (ahem, Ann Brashares and Sarah-Kate Lynch), relies on forced analogies. There's fairly terrible at times and are nothing short of clunky and absurd. BUT, after a while, I got what McHenry was doing and politely applaud her efforts here. All of her analogies are food analogies, which correlates to the mind of her protagonist, who uses food as a coping mechanism. So it makes sense, but it's still a bit yeesh.

Those are my thoughts on the book. I value the impact it had on me and my way of thinking. And, I challenge you to go through the experience as well. Will you?

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