Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on April 2nd, 2013
Pages: 384 •Goodreads
Bestselling author Liza Palmer carries readers to North Star, Texas, in the amusing and poignant Nowhere But Home.
After Queenie Wake is dismissed from her restaurant job, she returns to North Star to cook meals for death row inmates.
Hopeful that the bad memories of her late mother and promiscuous sister (now the mother of the captain of the high school football team) have been forgotten by the locals, Queenie discovers that some people can’t be forgotten—heartbreaker Everett Coburn—her old high-school sweetheart.
When secrets from the past emerge, will Queenie be able to stick by her family or will she leave home again?
Liz Palmer’s Nowhere But Home is a funny and touching story of food, football, and fooling around.
Nowhere But Home has been on my radar since I saw Lauren rave about it on her blog. Since we’re basically twinning 99% of the time, I was sure that if she loved it, I would love it too. I was looking for some guaranteed good reads to kick off 2017 while I was in Hawaii, so I happily downloaded this on my brand new Kindle and dove in while lounging on the beach.
I finished this book in less than 24 hours because it does NOT disappoint. I was so, so engaged in all of the elements of the story. Queenie, the main character (unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your POV, named Queen Elizabeth Wake) is a failing, vagabond chef who can’t keep down a job. After losing yet another gig, she’s finds her way back home to her extremely small hometown in Texas, which she generally avoids as all costs. She takes a rather unusual and morbid job while there as the chef cooking last meals for death row inmates at the local prison, which gives her perspective and takes her mind off of the small town drama and stigmas that plague her and her family.
While the premise of the book sounds rather morbid, it’s actually a really eye opening read in multiple ways. Queenie comes from the ultimate dysfunctional family (her mother had a really horrendous reputation that’s stuck with Queenie and her sister long past her mother’s death) that has led to a seemingly unshakeable stigma in her small Texas town. Yet her sister, Merry Carole, has managed to open her own small business and raise a respectful and talented son as a single mother. While both sisters are still susceptible to the hurt of small-town gossip, it’s really empowering to read how they take strides to break the emotionally abusive and neglectful family patterns that they grew up with, and to watch them challenge themselves and each other emotionally as they seek to rise above the town’s view of them. (Also, a quick note, when I read the synopsis I though the story would focus heavily on romance. While it was there, it largely took a backseat to all of the personal development and family growth that Queenie experienced, and for that as a reader I was grateful).
The description of the small town of North Star was perhaps one of the best I’ve read. Liza Palmer’s writing was so intricately detailed to show the nuances of the tiny community, from the too-close-for-comfort relationships to the blinding power of ignorance and denial that can last for decades. Yet the constant pettiness didn’t overwhelm every aspect of the novel, and there are moments where the simplicity of living a small town life are made to seem to fulfilling and rewarding, such as the neighbors who run restaurants with amazing home cooking out of their backyards to the warm summer nights of family barbecues. Palmer did an excellent job juxtaposing the repulsion and pull that Queenie feels toward North Star, and the novel ends in a sort of peaceful place that places no shame in returning to where you started from and still being the best, and most changed, possible version of yourself. I’ve never been to Texas, but after reading about North Star I feel as though I’ve lived and breathed it, if for only a short amount of time.
Of course, the most intriguing lot element of the book is Queenie’s job cooking last meals for death row inmates. An emotionally charged plot line, it was so interesting to see what these fictional prisoners requested, and how each menu request impacted Queenie, and what she was able to glean from their personality and humanity (or lack thereof) by what they ordered. Food as a vehicle for healing and soothing is a huge theme in this story, and watching Queenie cook, whether in the charged atmosphere of the prison kitchen or in her sister’s comfortable and cozy home, was cathartic as it clearly helped Queenie to find herself through food again. It also didn’t hurt that the food descriptions were mouth watering-delicious, and this is coming from someone who is not usually the biggest fan of Southern food.
Overall: I loved this book for the food, for the family, and for the idea that it’s never too late to find yourself. Patterns can be changed and relationships can heal, and it’s the quiet, small type of hope that runs throughout the course of this novel that makes it so sweet and satisfying. I walked away from this novel with a sense of peace for the characters and a pride in their accomplishments, and my only complaint is that I wanted MORE. Hooray for my first 5 star read of 2017!