Gingersnap - Patricia Reilly Giff

It's 1944, W.W. II is raging. Jayna's big brother Rob is her only family. When Rob is called to duty on a destroyer, Jayna is left in their small town in upstate New York with their cranky landlady. But right before he leaves, Rob tells Jayna a secret: they may have a grandmother in Brooklyn. Rob found a little blue recipe book with her name and an address for a bakery. When Jayna learns that Rob is missing in action, she's devastated. Along with her turtle Theresa, the recipe book, and an encouraging, ghostly voice as her guide, Jayna sets out for Brooklyn in hopes of finding the family she so desperately needs.






After years of moving through a number of foster homes, orphaned Jayna finally gets the chance to live with her older brother, Rob, now old enough to become her legal guardian. While it might not always be the most financially comfortable situation in their home in upstate New York, they are happy to have each other. Then everything changes with the arrival of World War 2. Rob gets drafted, leaving his sister in the care of their landlady, Celine. Before he leaves, Rob mentions a recipe book he came across belonging to their French mother. Inside the recipe book, Rob had found a Brooklyn address, possibly that of their grandmother neither of them have met, Elise Martin.


After Rob's departure, Elise doesn't have much interest in sticking around with the landlady she believes doesn't like her much. She decides to set out on a journey to uncover the story behind the recipe book and who this Elise Martin really is, maybe even uncover some answers about Elise's parents, who were killed in a car crash when she was very young. Throughout the course of the story, Elise is surprised to receive guidance from an unnamed female ghost (the ghost doesn't remember her own identity either). One thing though, the ghost appears to have the ability to read Jayna's thoughts. This spirit also seems to like rifling through Jayna's clothes and using her nail polish without asking. Manners these days, I tell ya! So, added to the answers she wants to find for her own questions, Elise is also curious to find out the identity behind this disembodied voice. The ghost doesn't play a huge role in the story, at least not until near the end, but it was an enjoyable element of mystery for Giff to weave in. 


In between the chapters are a few of Jayna's pseudo-soup recipes, ones she creates to distract her from life's disappointments. (If you're trying to figure out the significance of the title btw, "Gingersnap" is Jayna's nickname).




Celine, the landlady, gets a bit of a bad rap thanks to Jayna's perspective. I found Celine to have a bit of a hard exterior, true, but we later get little bits about her that suggest she feels deeply but struggles to be comfortable sharing what she feels with others... so it can come off as her being a little abrasive. Being the same way myself, I sort of understood her. That line when she sighs, "someday I'll get my life back..." Man, have I felt that on so many levels at various times throughout my life! Plus, I found her funny with her "almost genuine" Ming vase. 


But it's also easy to feel for Jayna in this situation. Who wouldn't want to know the answers to the story of where they came from? Jayna can have her difficult moments too, but in the end, all these characters want the same thing: a cohesive, supportive, caring family unit... in whatever form that takes. This is another one of those great stories that illustrates how family can be made up of anyone you choose, blood or not. Sure, you can't choose who your blood relatives are, obviously, but outside of that, you can call whomever you like "family". It's an empowering thing, that realization!