Friday, February 26, 2021

The Chicken Sisters by KJ Dell'Antonia


Another book I've had on my bookshelf for a bit and finally put it on my list for February. Even then, it took me a lot of stops and starts to finally jump into this tale of two chicken shops, a generational feud, and a food wars show with a big prize that could change everything. 

Sisters Amanda and Mae are pretty different: Mae is a home organizing rising star in New York City; she's got a popular book out, and is in the running for a co-hosting job on a popular home show. She's all about being organized; everything in its place and a place for everything. This is a direct reaction to her childhood and her mother, Barbara. Amanda still lives in Merinac, Kansas. She helps run her late husband's restaurant-Frannie's. Amanda and Mae's mother, Barbara, runs Mimi's-also a chicken restaurant. 

Way back in the 1880's, Mimi and Frannie were two sisters running their own chicken shack. Then a feud erupted between the sisters, and Frannie set up her own chicken shack and the two restaurants have been competing with each other ever since. Amanda caused another ripple in the family feud when she fell in love with Frank, and married the "enemy". She's not been allowed back into Mimi's since her marriage. She works with her mother-in-law, Nancy, to run Frannie's, and to raise her two children. 

Amanda decides to apply to Food Wars, a popular show that pits two restaurants against each other, with a winning prize of $100,000.  To her surprise, within days, there's a camera crew and Sabrina, the host of the show in Merinac. Mae decides to come out from NYC to help-but of course her motive isn't pure. She hasn't been back for years, either. 

It's definitely not a cut and dried experience, as the two sisters fight over everything and the cameras are there to capture all the drama. Two very different personalities, both at a turning point in their lives, but not quite sure what to do about it. This novel is full of a cast of characters that all add to the hometown feel and keep the plot moving with all sorts of side stories. 

It really is a tale that is retold over and over-the sibling that stays in the same place all their life--did they make the right choice to stay? And the sibling that leaves as soon as they can for brighter lights and a new life--can they return home again? 

What starts out as a competition over who has the best chicken morphs into a much bigger, complicated family situation. At times I thought the story slowed down and I got lost in the weeds a bit. But I stuck with it, and it had a very satisfying ending. I'd actually like to see a follow up to this novel--I'm curious to see the characters and their lives a year later. It really would make a good TV movie!

I think the biggest takeaway I got from this novel was this: choices you make in your youth aren't permanent. You can stop, examine your life, and make changes-big changes-if you realize what you're doing doesn't make you happy. There is nothing wrong in starting over-in fact, it's often where you find your happy place and your best self. Sometimes you have to leave a place in order to return with a peaceful and grateful heart, and realize it's where you belong. It's also about recognizing that sometimes, you have to leave home for a bit to find yourself. 

Rating: 3/6 for a novel about family dynamics and history, living in a small town, sisters, and healing old wounds. There were some spots where the story got bogged down, but otherwise if you stick with it, you will enjoy the outcome. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio.

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