The industry buzz on Kitchens of the Great Midwest * by TV producer (The History Channel and the Discovery Channel) J. Ryan Stradal has been relentless for weeks. The latest is the review in The New York Times. (Also check out the reviews in the L.A. Times and the Petoskey News where a pivotal scene is set).
Eleven year-old Eva Thorvald does not fit in - not with her hard-working, well-meaning but unsophisticated parents or the kids at school. She finds comradery in her cool cousin Randy who has a troubled history with the law, and solace in the prized hydroponic chocolate habaneros she cultivates in her closet. When her ingenious attempt to even the score with the bullies lands her in hot water, she bolts for the big city (Evanston, IL) where her cousin Braque is a college student. Eventually she would become the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, and in the process, comes face to face with the secret her loving family tried to shield her from.
"Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal’s startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity. By turns quirky, hilarious, and vividly sensory, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is an unexpected mother-daughter story about the bittersweet nature of life—its missed opportunities and its joyful surprises." Recipes included.
"(A) big-hearted, funny, and class-transcending pleasure. It’s also both a structural and empathetic tour de force, stepping across worlds in the American midwest, and demonstrating with an enviable tenderness and ingenuity the tug of war between our freedom to pursue our passions and our obligations to those we love.” ~ Jim Shepard
"(A) charming, fast-moving round robin tale of food, sensuality and Midwestern culture..." ~ Janet Fitch
Readalikes: Chez Moi by Agnes Desarthe; Mangoes and Quince by Carol Field; and La Cucina : a novel of rapture by Lily Prior.
* = starred review