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May 31, 2011

Book Notes - Jael McHenry ("The Kitchen Daughter")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

I actively seek out books that explore our relationship with food, and Jael McHenry's debut novel excels at this. The protagonist, a young woman with Asperger's syndrome, interacts with the world through her cooking. Filled with memorable characters and magical in all the right places, McHenry gives us an eye-opening and moving story of what "being normal" really means.

Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:

"Skillfully rendered from Ginny's point of view, McHenry's debut novel is a touching tale about loss and grief, love and acceptance."

In her own words, here is Jael McHenry's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, The Kitchen Daughter:

There was plenty of music in my world while I was writing The Kitchen Daughter, though there is very little in the world of the finished book. My main character, Ginny, is a shy and sheltered 26-year-old who has always lived with her parents in her childhood home—until their sudden deaths thrust her into a world she's unprepared for, and a battle with her domineering sister Amanda.

Ginny has Asperger's syndrome, and one of her main coping mechanisms is cooking. She seeks comfort in the kitchen. But when she makes her Italian grandmother's ribollita (Tuscan bread soup), the ghost of her grandmother appears to give her a warning, and from there, Ginny's world becomes even more challenging and complex.

"Hero Takes a Fall" – The Bangles

On the first (non-family) road trip I ever took, The Bangles' Greatest Hits was the first CD in the changer, and this was the first song on that CD. It starts with a swell of humming, all in female voices. Ever since then, this is the sound of all new ventures for me. That opening whoooooooaaaaaaaa, that sound out of nowhere, is everything beginning.

"Vampires in Blue Dresses" – Margot and the Nuclear So and So's

This is one hundred percent, without question, the #1 song that was in my head throughout the entire process of writing and rewriting this book. I have a very clear mental image of my character Ginny standing in her kitchen, framed in the doorway, with this song playing. Maybe because some of the lyrics are about shutting yourself off from the world ("Don't pick up the phone/ Don't answer the door"), as Ginny does.

"Rise Up With Fists!!!" – Jenny Lewis & the Watson Twins

This song is beautiful on its own merits, but I also love it because of the contrast between the sharp, angry tone of the title and the soft, strummy sound of the song itself. Ginny, too, is a contradiction. She's smart and funny and loving on the inside, but her inability to read body language and her blunt awkwardness—hallmarks of her particular instance of Asperger's—keep people from seeing that about her, at least the first time they meet her.

"Ramalama (Bang Bang)" – Roisin Murphy

I find this song insanely creepy, with its thumping jagged rhythm and weirdly insect-like background voices. Most of the ghosts in The Kitchen Daughter are harmless, even reassuring, but there's one who is dangerous and threatening. This is her song. "Unzip my body/Take my heart out." Ew.

"Fast As You Can" – Fiona Apple

If you're ever doing anything slowly but you'd like to be doing it faster, play this song. Your fingers may fumble at first, but the relentlessness of the beat, the tripping-over-itself-go-go-go syncopation, will get you going. It's my go-to write-faster song for first drafts.

"The Lass From the Low Countree" – traditional

Once upon a time I was a dorky high school senior in small-town Iowa, and I sang this song for our regional Solo & Small Ensemble contest. Lo these many years later, I sing it to warm my voice up before radio interviews. (It's really good for that.) As it turns out, high schoolers everywhere are still singing it for their own contests and concerts. YouTube is positively lousy with teenagers in front of whiteboards under fluorescent lights and acoustic tile drop ceilings, squeaking or belting or warbling out the chorus "Oh sorrow/Sing sorrow/Now she sleeps in the valley where the wildflowers nod/And no one knows she loved him but herself and God." Cheery!

"Hometown Glory" – Adele

When a stranger asks if she needs help, the narrator of this song says "No and thank you please, madam, I ain't lost, just wandering." Ginny might not say it as elegantly, but she'd be thinking it. And it's a song about belonging to a place. Ginny belongs to Philadelphia, where she's lived her whole life. The piano on this is dark and compelling and wonderful. Somehow frantic, but still restrained. Just perfect.

"These Apples" – Barenaked Ladies

I need to include at least one song in this playlist that addresses food, since food is a major, major part of The Kitchen Daughter, and it doesn't hurt that the playful lyrics here are about miscommunication and misunderstanding. Plus, it has one of those epic groaner puns in it: "'These apples are delicious'/ ‘As a matter of fact they are,' she said." They're Delicious! Get it? GET IT? Don't worry, I'll show myself out.

"Marvelous Things" – Eisley

The crooning, piercing voices of the Dupree sisters give me chills and shivers, and never more than on the chorus of this song. The two sisters of The Kitchen Daughter, Ginny and Amanda, are often in contention, but there is a deep love underpinning it all, and I think if they sang together they might sound like these sisters do.

"Don't Give Up" – The Noisettes

Good advice set to a great beat trumps everything.

Jael McHenry and The Kitchen Daughter links:

the author's website
the author's blog

Book Addiction review
Book'd Out review
BookNAround review
The Brain Lair review
Devourer of Books review
Huntington News review
Kirkus Reviews review
Lesa's Book Critiques review
Lisa Ahn review
Luxury Reading review
New York Journal of Books review
O Magazine review
Reading on a Rainy Day review
S. Krishna's Books review
She Is Too Fond of Books... review
That's What She Read review
Travel, Wine, and Dine review

Barnes & Noble Book Clubs guest post by the author
The Best Food Blog Ever interview with the author
Beth Hoffman guest post by the author
Mark and Lynn Are Famished interview with the author
WORD interview with the author
Writer Unboxed interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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