The Summer Kitchen by Lisa Wingate opens with SandraKaye Darden meeting a realtor at her Uncle Poppy’s house. Poppy had been tragically killed in a robbery just a few months before. The police had no new leads in his case. It was time to sell the house and move on.
The house was old and had not been well-kept due to Poppy’s advanced age. But SandraKaye can’t quite let it go yet. This house was a safe haven for her as a child when her mother’s mood swings and substance abuse were too much to bear. Though it doesn’t really make sense, Sandra decides to paint the kitchen cabinets. But she doesn’t tell her family or her pushy best friend.
Though outwardly Sandra looks affluent, she feels her world is crumbling. Her husband, a successful doctor, is rarely home. Neither is her youngest son, Christopher, who is struggling but won’t open up to her. And her oldest son, Jake, fled after Poppy’s funeral. Jake blamed himself: if Jake had been with Poppy, as he usually was that time of the week, perhaps Poppy would still be alive now. Jake’s car was found at the airport, and they suspect he went back to his native Guatemala, from which he had been adopted as a young boy.
As Sandra works in Poppy’s house, some of the neighborhood faces become familiar. The pre-teen wanna-be thugs who roam the streets. The disabled elderly lady. The kids who run around unsupervised. The family of Hispanic people across the street. And the teen girl who looks 13 going on 30.
The teen girl, Cass, lives with her brother, Rusty. Their mother died, and they didn’t want to live with “creepy Roger,” their mother’s boyfriend. So they ran away. Rusty, age 17, finds work to support them, and Cass tries to make ends meet in their cheap apartment. They lie about their ages so that social services won’t find and separate them.
One day when SandraKaye chases some young children from the dumpster, she realizes they were probably scavenging for food. She decides to bring peanut butter sandwiches the next day. That starts a regular routine. Cass begins helping, mainly in order to have access to those sandwiches. The two women form a relationship that changes both their lives.
I picked this book up on a two-for-one audiobook sale because I loved Wingate’s Carolina Chronicles series so much. This book, however, started extremely slowly. Then a crude reference and a bad word caused me to set it aside and listen to another book instead. I decided to come back to it later, and I am glad I did, because I enjoyed the latter half much more.
The slowness was not just the beginning plot. The narrators also seemed slow. The point of view goes back and forth between Sandra and Cass, and the story is set in Texas. I grew up in TX and don’t recall anyone there speaking as slowly as these narrators. It finally occurred to me to speed up the audiobook to 1.2. That helped a great deal without distorting the voices.
I was very disappointed to see the crude reference and bad word in one of Lisa’s books. I hope this doesn’t become a trend. Both were quite unnecessary. I got from the rest of Lisa’s description that the neighborhood Poppy and Cass lived in was seedy. There was no need to throw those elements in for realism or grit.
But I did appreciate SandraKaye’s realization that she didn’t have to retreat into a shell. It was good to see her world opening up to see the needs of others, not just as statistics, but as real people.
I especially liked how Sandra went from asking herself “Aren’t there programs to help these people?” to doing what she could personally.
I was also very satisfied with how the story ended. There were a couple of ways it might have that would have been nice but implausible. I think Lisa ended it the best way possible to be both realistic and gratifying.