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 do her ambitions. 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.
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.
An oven-warm yet bittersweet collection of character studies circling the story of Eva Thorvald ... Hilariously precise in its cultural geography ... But in spite of its locavorous detail, the novel's plot is driven by a universal truth: that food brings people together Independent on Sunday Kitchens of the Great Midwest is 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 This offbeat debut features many satisfying ingredients, including triumph over adversity, recipes and a warm Midwestern backdrop Mail on Sunday Stradal creates something quirky, affecting and delicious Sunday Mirror Fun and original Woman and Home Stradal's delicious debut reveals Eva's sweet, sad, funny self in a series of funny vignettes Psychologies A gorgeous feast that feeds both the senses and the soul Simple Things A tender coming-of-age story with a mix of finely rendered pathos and humour ... Ultimately, Kitchens reveals the strong interplay among food, family and our most cherished memories ... Stradal suggests that love - or the absence of love - is the most powerful condition of all Washington Post From the quite literally burning passions of a lonely eleven-year-old girl with an exceptional palate, to the ethical dilemmas behind a batch of Blue Ribbon Peanut Butter Bars, J. Ryan Stradal writes with a special kind of meticulous tenderness - missing nothing and accepting everything. A superbly gratifying debut -- Meg Howrey Time flew by when we sat down with Kitchens of the Great Midwest, a charming and unusual first novel ... We were blown away by Stradal's flair for depicting messy emotions and mixed-up families, and delighted by his insightful and funny reflections on foodie culture and class dynamics iBooks, Book of the Month A warm and enjoyable read about life, love, food, family ... and chilli eating contests Stylist, book of the month This wise and witty tale of immigrant assimilation wholeheartedly embraces a passion for food ... Laugh-out-loud funny ... Stradal is so good at evoking the inner lives of his characters, male and female, young and old ... Stradal has a sharp eye for the evolution of culture and for landscape; his tone is light, always a little askew ... Midwesterners never forget what things cost, and Kitchens of the Great Midwest is a terrific reminder of what can be wrested from suffering and struggle - not only success, but also considerable irony, a fair amount of wisdom and a decent meal -- Jane Smiley Guardian This lovely, poignant, hilarious book is the best thing I have read this year. Everything about it is original and wonderful ... The writing is whipcrack smart and it's both powerfully moving and brilliantly satirical, especially about kitchen snobbery. Read it, read it! -- Wendy Holden Daily Mail Despite a life pockmarked by poverty and other adversities, Eva has an equally outsize heart. A warring mass of desires, talents and imperfections, she's an attractively flawed, completely likable demigoddess ... Kitchens of the Great Midwest is not only Eva's story but also a gastronomic portrait of a region ... It's an impressive feat of narrative jujitsu ... This colorful, character-driven story ... keeps readers turning the pages too fast to realize just how ingenious they are New York Times Eva Thorvald is the new Olive Kitteridge Elisabeth Egan, author of A Window Opens Teenagers and foodies (teenage foodies especially), will love this book. It's about Eva, a bullied girl who triumphs over her adversaries to become a legendary chef. This is great in itself, but there's so much more to it than that ... The story-within-a-story action ranges all over the U.S. and is a celebration of great American food as well as the great American underdog. A tremendous novel that combines powerfully moving moments with hilarious satire, especially about kitchen snobbery -- Wendy Holden Daily Mail