Before we get started, I want to mention that Completely Full Bookshelf is now 4 years old! I've had such a wonderful time reviewing books for so long. Thank you to MMGM for being a wonderful community where I was able to start my blog and improve my reviewing skills, and thank you to #IMWAYR for being such a welcoming group and allowing me to broaden my blog to YA reviews as well. And of course, I have to thank all of the amazing authors whose books have brought me so much joy!
Now, for #IMWAYR, I am recommending the graphic novel Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley.
A word of caution to any young readers: although this book doesn't fit precisely into the YA genre, it is not an MG (middle grade) novel and contains some mature content.
I decided to read this graphic novel after seeing Jana Eschner recommend it on her blog, Jana the Teacher, and I'm so glad I did! Relish is a graphic memoir about a subject I think we can all get behind: food! Being the child of a chef and a foodie made author Lucy Knisley a huge fan of food and of cooking. Food permeates all of Knisley's memories, from helping her mother with catering jobs as a child to working as a cheesemonger later in life. In Relish, Knisley chronicles her life from childhood to present day and illustrates (literally) the ways in which food has influenced it; plus, she includes a recipe at the end of most chapters, with the steps illustrated in fun comic form!
The funny thing about Relish is that I don't have a ton to say about it, but it is one of the most enjoyable books I have ever read! First of all, Knisley has collected an absolutely wonderful selection of anecdotes about herself, family, and friends. Relish shows some of the ways in which food acted as a formative experience for Knisley, it contemplates the cultural value of food and people's differing palates, and it also sneaks in some coming-of-age experiences and a look at Knisley, her parents, and other characters as they age and grow. Although a couple chapters are a bit too similar, most chapters are varied, with their own interesting aspects ranging from travel and art school to cravings and junk food. (I'd tell you more, but I'd rather you read the book and experience each story for yourself.) Knisley is an excellent storyteller with a fascinating life, and she is incredibly skilled at pulling you into each chapter and making you feel like you are living Knisley's life! Relish doesn't have much conflict in its story, but instead of becoming dull as a result, it just becomes an incredibly pleasant and soothing read!
Relish also deserves acclaim for its illustrations. Despite the strangely dull cover, the pages of Relish are rife with vivid colors, expressive facial expressions, and drawing after drawing after drawing of delicious food! (It helps that Knisley's prose is unusually descriptive for a graphic novel.) Knisley puts her illustrative talents to work in the recipe at the end of almost every chapter, whether she uses them to draw out the steps so that they are more clear (as with a recipe for sushi following a chapter set in Japan) or just to include fun visual gags (as with some butterflies flying around a butterflied leg of lamb in the second recipe). Knisley supplements her illustrations with numerous little captions pointing to aspects of almost every panel, which help to add an enormous amount of detail: in one panel detailing stores in Rhinebeck, New York (Knisley's hometown), there is a mention of Oblong Books, a real bookstore that I just ordered a signed book from a couple of months ago! This book is bursting with thoughts and details across every square inch, which ensures that, despite its short length (167 pages), it is still a wonderful reading experience!
When the coronavirus pandemic ends and people can go on vacations again without endangering their lives, Relish would be a perfect book to read! It is a sweet, serene sanctuary that makes you feel as if you are sitting with a loved relative, listening to them tell stories of a bygone time. You might not want to wait and save this book for a vacation, in which case read it now, as it's a perfect book to read in this time of stress and tension. Perhaps the best compliment I can give Relish is that, although I hadn't previously heard of Knisley, I'll definitely be reading more of her books in the future! I absolutely recommend this book!