Please Note*** There are NO spoliers. The recipes/ghosts is given away in the synposis on the dust jacket.
Ginny Selvaggio is twenty-six-years-old and attending the funeral of both her parents on a cold December day in Philadelphia. She lives alone in the family home, now that both her parents are gone. Her older, domineering sister, Amanada and her husband, Brennan, and their two daughters, Shannon and Parker, live in Jersey. Ginny has Asperger's Syndrome which is a rare and relatively mild autisitc disorder characterized by an awkwardness in social interaction and by the development of restricted interests and activities.
The house is now crammed full of family and friends who have come to pay their respects to the two sisters who are now left alone with no parents. Ginny is feeling very uncomfortable and she cannot handle crowds of people, large or small and sneaks away to her safe place - the kitchen.
In the kitchen, Ginny can be who she is and feel what she feels when she feels it away from the scrutinizing eyes and words of her sister, Amanda. The kitchen provides for Ginny a safe place, the only space that she is very comfortable with. Along with that comes the cooking she does. "The methodical chopping, slicing, stirring soothe her anxiety and the rich aroma of ribollita, painstakingly recreated from her Italian grandmother's handwritten recipe, calms her senses.
Ginny is in the kitchen drowning out the sounds and chatter of the guests in the other room. Ginny pulls her grandmother's recipe for "ribollita" from its place and begins preparations to make the soup. She has the onions and garlic simmering, and she's gathering cans of tomatoes, beans, and rice among other things. Finally everything is in the pot and smells simply divine. As Ginny opens the silverware drawer to extract a spoon, she notices her. It's Nonna, sitting on the step stool next to the refrigerator! But Nonna has been dead for twenty years. Nonna is definitely there, not a figment of Ginny's imagination and Nonna is wearing what she wore in 1991, and Ginny wonders if she's hallucinating.
"Hello uccellina." she says. Uccellina means "Little Bird" and that is what Nonna called her.
"You are surprise?" says Nonna. "But you bring me here. Don't be afraid." she says.
"Nonna, what's going on? Why are you here?"
"You bring me with the smell of ribollita, and I bring message. I come to tell you: Do not let her!"
"Her? Who?" Ginny inquires.
Suddenly the folding doors to the kitchen flew open and in stomps Aunt Connie. But Nonna is gone. Ginny starts running through the crowds in the living room, feeling people touch her skin as she passes by. On the opposite side of the room she grabs the door handle to the closet, whips it open and jumps inside, slamming the door behind her. She sits on the floor and puts her hands inside her deceased father's rubber boots. Amanda storms to the cupboard and tells Ginny how silly this is and how bad it looks with all the guests present. But Ginny doesn't care and she's not coming out, at least not right now.
The next morning Ginny wakes up in her bed and the first thing that comes to her mind is Nonna's appearance in the kitchen yesterday and she's having a hard time coping with that. Poor Ginny, now she's worried that Grandpa Damson might appear on his front porch, or that her Dad's cousin, Olivia, the "rumoured suicide" will be waiting for her when she gets out of the shower, or that she'll meet Ma in the hall in the middle of the night, and she'll scold her and send her back to bed. Thinking a bit more, Ginny decides she must think of Nonna's appearance as a hallucination but Nonna's warning: "Do not let her." plays in the back of her mind.
While deciding what she should do, Ginny accidentally finds an old letter stuffed behind a lose brick written by her father to her mother - apologizing? The note looked to be about 30 years old and was very delicate. Now Ginny is doubly stumped, a message from Nonna "Do not let her" and now this letter from her Dad. What would her Dad ever have to apologize to her mother for and why would her mother think it necessary to keep this note for 30 years? These are far too many questions for Ginny's over-crowded brain so she decides she needs to go the kitchen and cook something to de-stress and calm her self down. This time she decides to make a martini to calm her nerves and picks up a recipe called: "The Georgia Peach" and there is no name on this recipe card so she feels safe. She assembles everything together, shakes the drink and pours it into a martini glass but it begins to over-flow. Just as Ginny is bending foward to take a sip before attempting to pick it up when a voice behind her booms:
"That doesn't look entirely dignified, but I admire your spirit!"
Ginny is stunned and flips the recipe card over and there IS a name on the back!
"Mrs. John Hammersmith?" asks Ginny.
"Oh, call me Necie please, she says.
Turns out Necie was one of her mother Caroline's best friends but she's been dead for many, many years. When Ginny tells Necie her mother too is dead, Necie begins to laugh saying:
"...it doesn't sound like such a tragedy to me, I'm dead too, a long time now."
Then she quickly faded as quickly as she had appeared. Ginny was a bit surprised that Necie didn't leave her a message like Nonna had done. However, Ginny has now discovered she can call ghosts from the past by making their recipes as long as they were written by hand. Whoever wrote the original recipe by hand, is the person who will appear from the past. Now poor Ginny is off and running, who else could she see? What else can she learn? She is so excited to have discovered this that she wants to run around the kitchen in circles, but doesn't because she is so awed at what she has learned about the recipes.
From here the story just keeps getting better and better with other various characters from the past appearing and a terrible tragedy occurs which will rip your heart strings out. Amanda and Ginny continue to bash heads over the sale of the house and Ginny discovers something about herself that she also believes has been passed down to one of Amanda's daughters, but Amanda refuses to hear anything about it and won't speak to Ginny.
Jael McHenry's debut novel is a blast from the past, so to speak and a lesson in what it means to accept the magic in our lives and to never, ever give up on what we know to be true, and above all, to honour who we are and where we came from. I recommend this book for anyone. This is definitely going in my permanent collection!
May 4, 2011