Books on GIF #57 — 'Kitchens of the Great Midwest' by J. Ryan Stradal

Hello everyone!

This Sunday we welcome our first guest writer, Alessandra Malito. Here is her review of 'Kitchens of the Great Midwest' by J. Ryan Stradal. 
I borrowed this book, the author's debut novel, from the library after seeing it as a librarian's recommendation. It is a coming-of-age story about a girl who grew up pretty well despite her troubled environment and upbringing. 

Eva Thorvald was born to a fine-dining connoisseur father and a woman who realized after Eva was born that she didn't want to be a mother. Then, due to unforeseen circumstances, Eva ends up being brought up by her aunt and uncle, and relies on her older cousins for any sort of solid support and friendship (especially since she's bullied in school). Food becomes a refuge for her, and as an 11-year-old she's growing some of the hottest peppers in the area and supplying them to a local restaurant. (She also has taste buds of steel.) 

Each chapter focuses on someone close to Eva — her cousins, the teenager who falls in love with her, the woman who is jealous of how well Eva can cook, and so on. Everyone in her life hasn't exactly had it easy, and they all have their own quirks and challenges. It's heartwarming to see this girl's sliver of life, and even more so the ways in which everyone around her admires her just for being herself. Meanwhile, you also get to watch (through these different accounts) how Eva is growing, how much she actually knows of her past, and how successful she becomes with her exquisite taste in food and her appreciation for locally sourced ingredients. 

Side note: If you like cooking (or the idea of it), you will be inspired to try some of the meals featured in the book. The author includes recipes, and talks about the varieties of certain foods. I had no idea there were so many types of corn or tomatoes. Recipes include baby-specific meals that Eva's biological father wants her to try to expand her newborn palette, two versions of succotash and what sounds like melt-in-your-mouth peanut butter bars. The author describes the way Eva and her biological father look at and think about food. I've already planned out the next five meals I will cook when I have guests over. 
This book was a really sweet and quick read that made me appreciative of the meals I eat, how they're made and the people in my life I share them with. Eva grew up to take everyone else's perspective on food into account, rather than be a snobby food critic, and as she rose to the top of her own culinary empire, she brought those she cared about along with her. 

My rating: 

'Kitchens of the Great Midwest' by J. Ryan Stradal was published by Viking in 2015. 312 pages.

What's next? In the coming weeks Books on GIF will review 'The God of Small Things' by Arundhati Roy, 'Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay,' by Elena Ferrante and 'The Shipping News' by Annie Proulx, among others. 

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Thanks for reading!*


* Thanks especially to Donna for copy editing this review!