Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
Published by Grove Press
This is a sweet little book about Mikage, who was orphaned as a young child and then raised by her grandmother. When her grandmother dies, she finds solace in her friend Yoichi and his mother Eriko. The three of them become a new kind of family, and the book details their relationship as well as how the losses the three of them suffer, independently and as a unit, affect each of them in a myriad of ways.
There were some things I absolutely loved about this book. The writing is really pretty, flowery without being over the top, descriptive but not to the point of being annoying. The way Yoshimoto describes grief and its hold on a person’s soul is absolutely gorgeous. I also loved how the relationships between the three main characters went places I wasn’t expecting while at the same time remaining very true to their personalities. Another thing I loved was Yoshimoto’s handling of a trans character in Eriko. Eriko used to be Yoichi’s father and is now his mother, and the way that Yoshimoto has the characters handle this fact is SO nonchalant, like it’s no big deal whatsoever (as it shouldn’t be) is really amazing. The way that Yoichi explained it to Mikage, and how Mikage just accepted it and loved Eriko exactly the same as she did before she knew this information about her, was really incredible to see in fiction.
While I loved certain aspects of Kitchen, overall it was not my favorite novel. I appreciate that it was slim, but I wanted more from it. I wanted more emotion, I wanted to get to know the characters even better, and I wanted to feel a deeper connection to them. This could possibly have been accomplished by making the novel longer, but I’m not sure that Yoshimoto’s style could have made that happen for me. Either way, I can see what people love about this author and there were definitely things about the book that really worked for me.