Recipes for Melissa, by Teresa Driscoll

Teresa Driscoll’s debut novel Recipes for Melissa is a moving, beautifully written book about mothers and daughters and the love between them.

When Melissa Dance was eight years old her mother died. Seventeen years later, after her twenty-fifth birthday, she meets with a lawyer who gives her a journal, left to her by her mother. The journal is a goodbye from a dying woman to the daughter she will never see grow up, filled with memories, recipes, advice, worries, wishes, and heartfelt truths.

As Melissa makes the journey through the pages of the journal, a snippet at a time, she begins to remember some of the many forgotten memories she has of her mother. Between the memories, and the pain of losing her becoming very real again, Melissa’s relationship with Sam, the man who wishes to marry her, becomes strained. Then she needs to find a way to tell her father, Max, about her unusual gift, knowing the news will reawaken his own pain. Page by page, Melissa’s life begins to change forever.

After reading the synopsis of the story, I undertook Recipes for Melissa with a jumbo box of tissues in hand, anticipating a heart-wrenching story of loss. Instead, I was pleasantly greeted with far more warmth than heartbreak, and while I certainly did shed the odd tear, I found this to be a surprisingly light and uplifting read without the over-sentimentality that one might expect.

It is impossible to read this book without going on an emotional journey – testament to Driscoll’s skill as a writer. I was with Melissa every step of the way, feeling her shock, her sadness, and her confusion. And I felt equally connected to the other people in her life: desperately hoping for Sam that Melissa would come around and agree to marry him; championing Max, her father, as he, seventeen years later, is still trying to move on.

The journal is such a lovely idea, and using a mother’s favourite recipes (many of which I look forward to testing in my own kitchen) as the central idea is a very nice touch. What I enjoyed most about the journal is that it gave me the opportunity to get to know Eleanor, Melissa’s mother, a little better, to share in her experiences leading up to her final days. Driscoll flashes back to the past allowing the reader to not only read the journal, but also gain insight into the circumstances surrounding it seventeen years ago. The transitions between past and present, between reading the journal and reading the story, and between the three points of view – those of Melissa, Eleanor and Max – are all smooth and seamless and very well crafted.

This was a book that I couldn’t wait to come back to. Recipes for Melissa is a poignant, uplifting and original book that will appeal to readers of Jojo Moyes and Lucy Dillon. It is a story of healing that will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.

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Emma is an ardent writer, reviewer and editor. She currently lives in Orange, NSW, where she shares her time between writing, undergraduate studies in Linguistics and French (oui, c’est vrai!), and her “day job” as a yoga teacher. Emma especially enjoys reading women’s fiction, contemporary fiction and the classics.

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