by J Ryan Stradal
I know, I just wrote a review of a book by this same author last week. But you guys, I loved this one too! This book was his first, and as a food writer, the author is smack in the middle of his wheelhouse in this novel (his first, I think). Kitchens is about a girl with a gifted taster in her mouth. As she grows up, she struggles to develop her palette in the oddest of ways. She is raised by an aunt and uncle who know nothing about elevated food, and thus, she must gather guidance anywhere she can.
This story touches on the foodie culture and shows us an interesting corner of that movement. The story is about one girl in particular, and her coming of age, but it’s told through the eyes of many different people who fade into and out of her life.
The last chapter is the piece de resistance, pulling together all the people who have given us their perspectives on who she is and what she is about. The last chapter is also like dessert – making everything you just ate (read) settle perfectly with deep satisfaction.
My favorite character is a church lady who is scared of losing her status at the state fair as the blue ribbon winner for the best “bars” recipe. If you know anyone from MN, you will know that bars = any kind of sweet thing cut into a square. Lemon bars, cookie bars, brownie bars, etc . . . There is no such thing as a lemon square in MN. I’m not kidding.
This author has created super authentic Minnesotans to populate these pages. They act like Minnesotans would act and they eat all kinds of ridiculous food. But there are many flawed individuals who get to show their silver linings and who are offered the opportunities to put their sometimes nefarious skills to use for legitimate purposes. It’s feel-good (and taste-good) fiction, whether you prefer hot chili peppers or ooey-gooey chocolate bars, I think you’ll find something in this story that will fill you up.
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