Olivia Tschetter successfully defends her doctoral dissertation the day that her mother, Vivian Tschetter, falls from a step stool and hits her head on the kitchen floor. Two days later, Olivia is back in South Dakota at her motherís bedside. Before she can tell her mother the news about her dissertation, her mother is dead, and Olivia - the youngest of four in a family of academics - is living in her childhood home with her father and experimenting with recipes as she completes her motherís cooking newsletter.
Olivia takes over for her sister, Annie, at the local Wheels on Meals organization and discovers the mysterious Mrs. Kilkenny, in turn uncovering a connection between one of the missing recipes in her motherís newsletter and some dark family secrets from long ago. That is not the only secret being kept in the Tschetter household. Besides Oliviaís secret that she has successfully defended her thesis, her siblingsí secrets gradually unfold as the family comes together to grieve and work through their interpersonal issues.
While Starting from Scratch is about how Vivian and then Olivia use food as a vehicle to bring and keep the family together through their love for Osso Buco, lasagne and the search for recipes, the recipes that appear in the main body of the novel - while they sound delicious - almost detract from the story and would better serve at the end. The real delight of the book lies in the interaction between the family members. Gilbert-Collins successfully paints a realistic picture of the dynamics between the adult children and their father and their aunts, and between the siblings with all their competition, favoritism and resentments. Throughout the novel, the sense grief and grieving washes through the characters as they adjust to life without their matriarch and realign themselves within the family.
Starting from Scratch is an understated story about a young womanís grief and a familyís grieving process. A therapeutic read.