Review…Kitchens of the Great Midwest. J.Ryan Stradal

Kitchens of the great midwestThe blurb:

Who is Eva Thorvald? To her single father, a chef, she’s a pint-sized recipe tester and the love of his life. To the chilli chowdown contestants of Cook County, Illinois, she’s a fire-eating demon. To the fashionable foodie goddess of supper clubs, she’s a wanton threat. She’s an enigma, a secret ingredient that no one can put their finger on. Eva will surprise everyone. On the day before her eleventh birthday, she’s cultivating chilli peppers in her wardrobe like a pro. Abandoned by her mother, gangly and poor, Eva arms herself with the weapons of her unknown heritage: a kick-ass palate and a passion bordering on obsession. Over the years, her tastes grow, and so does her ambition. One day Eva will be the greatest chef in the world. But along the way, the people she meets will shape her – and she, them – in ways unforgettable, riotous and profound. So she – for one – knows exactly who she is by the time her mother returns to find out.Kitchens of the Great Midwest is about the family you lose, the friends you make and chance connections that can define a life. Joyful, quirky or brazen, everyone lends their voice to tell Eva’s story – one that’s as heartwarming as it is irresistible, taking the bitter with the sweet.

What I thought:

Kitchens of the Great Midwest is the story of Eva’s life told chapter by chapter through the eyes of people close to her, and the foods they bring into her life, as told through the chapter headings – ‘lutefisk’, ‘chocolate habanero’, ‘sweet pepper jelly’, ‘walleye’, ‘golden bantam’, ‘venison’, ‘bars’, and culminating in ‘the dinner’.

This book is funny. I literally laughed out loud a few times, and that’s always a good start!

Each person in Eva’s life is touched by her food and adds to her repertoire in some way. When stories are told in this manner (jumping from person to person), it can sometimes be disjointed and frustrating, but I didn’t find that with this book. It was sometimes tricky trying to work out how the chapter protagonist fit in with Eva’s story, but I felt a sense of satisfaction each time I worked it out.

I thought that Kitchens of the Great Midwest was a little like moving through life – once you move on, you lose touch with those you’ve left behind and that happens with Eva; her next phase brings you new stories, but leaves the old ones unfinished. I loved the characters and would have loved some closure on exactly what happened with a few of them – the story does come around and you get a little glimpse of most characters in various ways by the end of the book, but I wanted more. I found that thinking of each chapter as a vignette of a life helped – almost like a collection of short stories linked rather than a complete novel, but I did enjoy it.

You know that saying ‘always leave them wanting more’? This book does exactly that and while I desperately wanted to know what happens next, it’s kind of endearing that the author trusts that his readers have gotten to know the characters well enough that they can guess what happens next. In some ways it’s more satisfying than being spoon-fed a happy ending. (By the way Mr Stradal – you write a female character very well!)

I give it  7/10

(Book supplied by Hachette NZ)

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